BACK TO (SAVE) THE FUTURE
Review by Mark Tucci
SOURCE CODE is a new science fiction film from director Duncan Jones, who continues to explore the genre as well as the human condition after his previous outing with MOON. While MOON was a claustrophobic and solipsistic examination of what it means to be human, SOURCE CODE takes those themes one step further and examines what it means to be alive.
The film starts off with Captain Colter Stevens (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) awakening on a commuter train bound for Chicago. While struggling to make sense of how he got there and why his reflection bears that of someone he’s never seen before, the train becomes the victim of a terrorist bombing, which subsequently kills everyone on board. Stevens then awakes in an even more bizarre environment to find he is a willing (or perhaps unwilling) participant in a top secret government experiment called the Source Code. The Source Code allows a specific matching candidate (in this case Stevens) to inhabit the body of dead person and re-live the last eight minutes of their life.
This is not time travel, it’s explained, but merely the shadow remnants of a person’s life – the fading afterglow of memories before they’re lost completely to death’s embrace. Or something like that. The science behind the film is never explained in much detail. In fact, the film often deliberately skirts the issue in order to keep Stevens in the dark, while treating what little explanation they do give to him on the same level as a parent would to a child. The fact that we, the audience, are treated with the same kid gloves is both effective and also somewhat frustrating when trying to understand the threads of what’s holding the story together.
Despite that fact, the film is quite good, and presents itself as a more serious alternative to a movie like “Groundhog Day”, with which it shares some similarities. As with Phil Connors, Captain Colter Stevens finds himself reliving the same day over and over again, though in the case of SOURCE CODE, it’s only eight minutes and the stakes are much higher as Stevens struggles to locate first the bomb, and then the bomber, responsible for the attack.
Jake Gyllenhaal redeems his career after the embarrassingly awful “Prince of Persia” and turns in a fine, heartwarming performance as Stevens, who is conflicted over the duty to his country versus the duty to his family and to himself. Michelle Monaghan (GONE BABY GONE, DUE DATE) plays Stevens’ love interest within the Source Code, while Vera Farminga (THE DEPARTED, UP IN THE AIR) and Jeffrey Wright (QUANTUM OF SOLACE, SYRIANA) are the progenitors of the Source Code experiment.
The story does a good job of keeping you on your toes by spending most of it’s time focused on Captain Stevens. The result will no doubt delight those film goers seeking to entertain their minds as well as their eyeballs. Most of the movie takes place in two locations – the train that’s about to explode, and the chamber where Stevens communicates to those in charge of the Source Code. While there is plenty of action that takes place on the train, sci-fi fans whose sole interest in the genre begins and ends with “Transformers” and “Skyline” probably won’t want to bother lest their heads explode from putting too many thoughts into it.
Besides the confusing science behind the Source Code device, the one other slight stumble this film makes is probably the way it ended. Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say that based on what the audience was presented, the ending didn’t really seem to adhere to the rules the film made for itself along the way. I think it would have worked better fading to black about a minute sooner. True, the movie keeps twisting and turning up to the end, but I think it could have done with one less turn.
As far as this being a science fiction film, as long as you’re willing to forgive the “science” aspects and simply enjoy the “fiction” of it, you’ll enjoy the movie. It’s not one that requires a lot of close attention to detail in order to keep up, but it is one that would probably offer a different perspective upon repeat viewings. Director Duncan Jones weaves a great deal of humanity into this film, and in the end accomplishes a rare feat for the genre by not only delivering a solid story, but raising questions about life itself and what it truly means to be alive or dead.
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Run Time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Vendome Pictures