Study Guide

Carlos in The Bourne Identity

By Robert Ludlum


Like Bourne, Carlos has a whole bunch of names. His birth name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, son of a Venezuelan Communist lawyer. And then, of course, he's Carlos the Jackal, the roughest, toughest assassin in Europe. Plus, he's probably René Bergeron, an up-and-coming fashion designer. He frequently disguises himself as a priest named Father Manuel. And then, finally, he is some world-famous figure or other—though we don't find out which one.

Bourne's multiple identities make him everyman, or no man (see "Jason Bourne"). Carlos, though, isn't quite so complicated. He's got lots and lots of different identities for the very good reason that he is a supervillain, and that's just the way supervillains are.

And that's really all there is to Carlos. He's just the bad guy. He's got lots of back story (13.43), but the main thing you need to know about him is that there are tons of scenes of him sitting there and whispering to his minions about how he's going to kill Bourne or "peel his face away" mwah-ha-ha-ha! (34.20) He's Doctor Doom or Darth Vader without the funny masks, and with a talent for couture—which is really kind of creepy, if you think about it.

And like all supervillains, Carlos gets away at the end of the novel to ensure there can be sequels. (Yep: Carlos returns in the third Bourne novel, The Bourne Ultimatum.)

Carlos is also a foil for Bourne. Both of them have many identities, and both of them are involved in some pretty shady—and pretty deadly—undercover business. Now, we know that Carlos is bad, and Bourne is good. But because Ludlum makes them so similar, we have to ask ourselves how different these two really are. What makes Carlos bad, and what makes Bourne good? Women love them both, so Marie's "I love you, so you must be good" argument can only go so far. How similar are these lethal dudes?

Carlos is so clearly a fictional supervillain that you will be flabbergasted to learn that he is a real person. We at Shmoop, at least, were pretty surprised. And yet, it's true: Carlos the Jackal is an honest-to-goodness terrorist named Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, currently serving multiple life sentences in prison for the murder of 14 people. The real Carlos is a Marxist who was involved with the PLO and anti-Israeli terror. Except for the name and a handful of biographical details, though, he has little or nothing in common with the Carlos in The Bourne Identity.