Study Guide

The Bourne Identity Setting

By Robert Ludlum


Zurich, Paris, South of France, New York, Washington, Indochina, All Over the Place

From James Bond films, you're probably used to the idea that spy thrillers should have exotic, varied settings. And The Bourne Identity sure does go a lot of places. There's the Mediterranean in the south of France; there's Paris, and Zurich, and New York. There are flashback stopovers in Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. Given all that travel, The Bourne Identity could practically be a James Bond film, right?

Well, no, not right. Bond films tend to use travel as a way to highlight exotic locales—you go to Japan or the Caribbean or New Orleans with Bond in order to enjoy the sights. It's tourism, sort of, and the films linger on scenery and different cultures as pleasures in themselves.

With The Bourne Identity, that's not the case. There's some discussion of local customs—we learn about Zurich bank norms, for example, and take a ride on a fishing boat in the south of France. But in a lot of ways, the different places just blur into each other. It's telling that General Villiers home in Paris and Treadstone in New York are said to look like "they could be identical blocks" (35.3).

Everywhere in The Bourne Identity does tend to look like everywhere else. The multiple various settings aren't really there to add atmosphere; they're there to give Bourne a lot of room to run around and do his thing. We're more impressed by how far he's gone and the way he races from point A to point B than we are by the sights he sees on the way.