Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Review: Source Code

The Source Code (c) 2011 Summit Entertainment

Ever since 9/11 the Americans have been pondering how they could ever catch the cunning terrorists who seem to always be one step ahead of them. A string of sci-fi thrillers after that have dealt with the collective problem, with some sort of scientific solution. Films like Next or Deja Vu allow the Americans to break some limits of time itself to complete their missions. Pity the films themselves weren't very inventive beyond their concepts. My hopes were up when the promising young director Duncan Jones (of Moon fame) announced he would make his second feature film about time.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a test subject of a scientific experiment and a soldier on an anti-terrorist mission. He's transported into a consciousness of a man about to die in 8 minutes. His cause of death is a massive bombing which will destroy the train he's riding on. Stevens has to find out who's behind the attentat. If he doesn't succeed, he will be sent back to relive the same 8 minutes over and over again until a solution is reached. The program that does this, The Source Code (I bet the title was chosen by studio executives before the script was written), doesn't actually allow time travel but instead opens a parallel universe for a moment.

Stevens is a former soldier who can't remember how he's gotten into the situation and to the Source Code programme in the first place. He initially wishes to make peace with his estranged father, but falls for his fellow commuter Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). Yet the lead officer and scientist behind the program (Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright) claim that it is impossible to rescue Christina and the other commuters on a ride towards their deaths. It has, after all, already happened.

Duncan Jones carries his movie's repeating Groundhog Day-like time loop with style and innovation which makes the film both easy to follow (despite all the complications) and captivating. A little too much time is spent on exposition as such a ludicrous plot wouldn't need such a detailed scientific explanation. We know it's bullshit and would like to concentrate on catching the terrorists. The central who-dun-it mystery is solved piece by piece as Stevens uses his 8 minutes to get to know his fellow commuters and what goes on inside the train.  Some comedic pieces are reserved to the insane-seeming behaviour as Stevens starts to solve things without wasting a second to explain anyone why.

What follows is a chapter of analysis which will delve a bit into the ultimate conclusions of both Moon and Source Code. If you haven't seen eiher one of them, yet wish to remain unspoiled, I put here a SPOILER ALERT.

Director Jones has some clear similarities between his two films. Both are about an individual with a dream and a job to do. Both dreams involve reconciling with loved ones after years of separation. It seems straightforward at first that after the job is completed, the achievment of the dream will be the reward. Yet higher-ups have decieved the individual and are just using him as a tool, putting him to do the same work over and over again for all eternity. The dream has been a manufactured lie all along, stolen memories from the individual's mind. The individual's priority will change to wanting to break off this mold and be free. He's willing to even die for it. It should be noted, however, that in Source Code Stevens accomplishes all this by assuming another identity. Even though individuality is celebrated, identity theft of a man that would have been killed is accepted by the end. The whole light-hearted dealing with the subject is reminiscent of Avatar.

In Jones's films there is a severe distrust to authorities, from science and military to government branches. At the same time an emphasis is put for an individual to be allowed to follow his own course and pursuit his own dreams. These themes are familiar to great sci-fi films from Metropolis to Brazil to RoboCop. They are of course even more relevant today as large organizations and corporations systematically lie to us to try to form us into little-thinking consumers that never question their part in the world.


In Source Code, Jones does celebrate the brief, even mundane lives of all us little people. He argues we are individuals and not our job as can connect beyond the boundaries with a small push to the right direction. The thriller works as we know that real characters are in danger, not just an absurd number of unknown people. A huge part of this is the good cast doing great work. Jake Gyllenhaal has a good leading man credit in Hollywood, yet is still identifiable for us Average Joes. Michelle Monaghan is as cute as always. The good characterization extends to even the villain who seems just sad and disoriented rather than scary and maniacal by the final showdown. The scientists and the military personnel, however, are presented as cold, unfeeling, uniformed and goal-oriented.  

Towards the end Jones and his screenwriter Ben Ripley resort to too conventional and safe solutions to avoid an unhappy or open ending. This makes the whole film a better-than-average thriller, but one still hopes for a mind-blowing instant sci-fi classic from its director. Let's hope he does it before he is totally captured and corrupted by the commercial forces of Hollywood. There have been rumours that Jones is on the forefront in replacing Darren Aronofsky as the director of the superhero film Wolverine.

★★★ 1/2

Director: Duncan Jones

Screenwriter: Ben Ripley
Cinematographer: Don Brugess
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright

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