A Meditation on Roof Jumping

by Sophia Harvey

I am by no means an expert on action movies, or anything else really, but I know a thing or two about Jason Bourne. As, perhaps, an atypical member of the Bourne franchise viewership, I was thinking about why exactly I am drawn to this series and very few others in its genre. Normally, I react negatively to mindless explosions and endless chase scenes. This is not to say that the Bourne movies are mindless, to the contrary, I think the first three have excellent story. The fourth, due to a more liberal interpretation of the book series and a new director, fell a little short in my opinion. However, when they got to the Bourne signature “chase over the rooftops of an impoverished city” scene, I was still hooked. Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that it’s the story and not the chase scenes that make the difference between Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher. Even so, there’s something about them. What is it that makes these scenes so appealing? I am not nearly as riveted by the chases on motorcycles or cars, or the scenes with giant guns.

I think the idea of rooftop running gets at something primal within the viewer. This can be traced back to Hitchcock with Vertigo and farther. We are a people afraid of heights. Afraid of being chased by an enemy. Afraid that we won’t make the jump between roofs. The added element of the impoverished city brings sweat, dirt, and grit. All of this together and it’s understandable why these scenes, more than any other action scenes, would have you biting your nails. Not everyone (definitely not I) fully understands guns or the power they hold. Sometimes a car flip can seem too extreme to be relatable. CGI is alienating  But the roofs – the power of the characters ensnared in chase – this is something that catches my attention. An audience can universally experience the feeling of terror that comes with running and jumping on these corrugated metal roofs. In this, I think that the makers of the Bourne series have really caught on to something gripping. It may also be that I just like to watch Matt Damon run.