Monday, April 25, 2011

Source Code

Colter Steven (Jake Gylllenhaal) wakes up on a train across from a woman (Michelle Monaghan) he doesn’t know. She calls him Sean. He doesn’t know what she’s talking about but she seems to know him. He tells her he isn’t who she thinks he is. He gets up, marches around, unsure of where he is or how he got there. He goes to the bathroom and sees someone else’s expression in the mirror. Outside the door waits Christina, that woman. They bicker a bit and then the train blows up, killing everyone on board.

That’s the set up for Source Code, the newest film from Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) who also helmed the popular Moon a couple years ago. There’s a lot of ways to read into a film like Source Code. You could read it in terms of God or religion or science or evolution or quantum physics or even psychology. I’d like to read it as entertainment. That is, after all, what it is. That it has more depth and intelligence than most blockbusters these days is a little added bonus and is, in truth, what makes it all the more entertaining.

Stevens wakes up in what looks like the cockpit of a crashed fighter jet. He doesn’t immediately know where he is but is quickly greeted over a monitor by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, the lovely actress from Up in the Air) who jogs his memory and isn’t quite willing to explain to him what is going on. As a solider, he’s wondering where his men are, if he can speak to his father, and why he is stuck here instead of off in battle. There isn’t much time and so he’s jolted back onto the train to live it all over again.

Stevens is eventually briefed by Dr. Rutledge (invaluable character actor Jeffry Wright) that he is involved in an experiment called Source Code, which is based on a quantum theory that there is roughly 8 minutes that exist in the mind after death or something like that. Therefore, because Stevens is so close a match to this Sean fellow, they can blast him back 8 minutes before the man’s death in order to see just what happened. It’s not time travel, as Colter can’t change anything, but he can figure out who the bomber is and let them know so he can be stopped before another, even bigger attack is staged.

That’s as far as I’ll go with plot. You can discover the rest of the nuances and twists on your own. Is Source Code possible? Maybe, especially if you're one of those few who were spoken to by that narrative documentary What the Bleep do we Know? in which quantum mechanics are attempted to be broken down in such a way that the everyday mind could understand. But now that doesn’t much matter. What’s important is that it makes for intriguing suspense.

The preposterousness (and all science fiction must rightfully come with some degree of preposterousness) of Source Code works because the film rightly defines its science. It thus lays down a ground work for something that is given rules and definition and works in creating some sort of believable story. Some sci-fi tends to allow the science to run off with itself and just makes it up as it goes along. Discipline is the key here.

The film’s enjoyableness is in no small part due to the presence of its star Gyllenhaal who is becoming, one film at a time, a star amidst the likes of Brad Pitt or George Clooney: pretty faces who can fit comfortably into a wide assortment of roles. Find me an actor with the versatility to play in such widely different films as Prince of Persia, Love and Other Drugs, Brothers and Jarhead and you'll find talent.

The intrigue of Source Code, from a structural point of view is that, by breaking itself down into repeating 8 minute intervals, it creates the kind of gnawing suspense that is created from the frustration of playing an impossible level of a video game. You keep using up your continues, trying it a little different each time, yelling, screaming, cursing the game the yet never putting it down or finding satisfaction until you prove to it that not only can it be beat, but that it can be beat by you.

Source Code thus exits in what appears to be a string of recent sci-fi films that approach their intriguing subject matter with intelligence and a knack for storytelling. This arguably began last year with Inception which, despite all of it’s flaws, to be fair, exists on a level all unto itself, and has been followed with the Adjustment Bureau, this one and Rian Johnsons upcoming Looper with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s not a major work, and it ends about 4 or 5 shots later than it justifiably should, but, it’s a smart and thrilling ride of the variety that seem to be becoming rarer and rarer on the big screen.


  1. The premise is taken from other films, and the script isn’t that good but somehow Jones just makes this such a suspenseful movie and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’m also glad to hear that he may be taking over “The Wolverine” project. Sweet. Good Review Andrew!

  2. I want to see this one, and I'm kind of happy about that era of intelligent sci-fi movies.

  3. Andrew?

    I have to disagree about this movie. I'm one of the biggest fans of Moon I know, and this just isn't even in the same ballpark for Jones. It would require revealing a lot of spoilers for me to poke holes in the movie like I'd like to, but let me start by criticizing the fact that there are not really any stakes in this movie (how many more times can he do it?), it doesn't have a satisfying climactic iteration of the train sequence, and what comes afterward is all bogus, rule-breaking nonsense. I actually didn't really like Gyllenhaal's performance either, because he randomly played his character like a crazy person in a couple of the sequences. Is that Jake's fault, or Duncan's?

    Sorry to hate, but this movie is way overhyped.

  4. Vance - I by no means argue that this is a great movie. I make out perfectly clear that I am taking it as entertainment alone and on that level it wasn't a waste of my time and I certainl;y appreciate that it has genuine suspense as opposed to just non-stop action.

    The ending left me weary. It should have ended on that imagine of them staring into the mirror dome or whatever it is instead of sereval scene later.

    On the subject of Jones, as I posted in a comment section elsewhere, I'm suprised that people speak of him as a great director. He's made one good sci-fi movie and now one entertainment and people are speaking of his as if he is some sort of second coming. I think Moon was good but nothing that would make me want to deem him the next boy genius. Source Code confirms he can do bigger and more entertaining and can do it with a bit more style and intelligence than most, but for me he's just another director on the pile.

  5. P.S. - I think Dan was doing a little bit of comment copying and pasting ;)