“Tell me everything is going to be okay” Captain Colter Stevens/Sean Fentress
[Deep Gravelly Voice] “What would you do…, What if you could…?”
Source Code is continuing a current trend in Hollywood for Science Fiction and Fantasy high-concept films such as Inception, Adjustment Bureau and the ridiculous Limitless. It is noted that with such films Hollywood is aiming to prove to most that they can be clever without losing the commerciality of one of their biggest products. The ideas expressed in Source Code is nothing new, and if we were to pitch the movie to some big shot Hollywood executive, we would most likely say that “It’s a mash up between Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, North By Northwest and Donnie Darko”. To be honest this does not sound that promising, but Duncan Jones delivery of the subject matter through meticulous direction and Ben Ripley’s elaborate script makes it a highly entertaining 93 minutes.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaall), a decorated US Pilot who has served in Afghanistan, wakes up on a train while in the middle of a flirtatious conversation with Christina (Michelle Monaghan) the lady opposite him. He should be acquainted with Christina, he should also be aware of his train surroundings but he isn’t. He has been transported into the body of a man called Sean Fentress, to a time earlier in the day, on a train that blows up within 8 minutes of him waking up. When the train blows up he is transported to a perplexing and reticent discourse with Sergeant Goodwin (the ever reliable Vera Farmiga), whose only concise instructions to him is to find the bomb and identify the bomber. He then is forced to continuously relive those eight minutes on the train till his mission is completed.
8 minutes is the amount of memory that the brain preserves after you die, which is what Dr Rutledge (Jeffery Wright) has successfully tapped into and the fundamental theory of what is the Source Code. Routledge stresses that what Stevens does is not indeed time travel but something more confounded, and then the resultant explanation that ensues proves to add to the confusion. Yes the Source Code premise is somewhat on the side of absurdity but this bears no negative reflection on the finished film whatsoever. As a thriller it is incredibly well paced and engaging, as Gyllenhaall has to come to grips with why he finds himself in this situation and identifying the bomber.
The film does a great job of combining humour with suspense as Gyllenhaall repeatedly relives those 8 minutes by following red herrings or discovering more clues, as well as meeting the repetition of prosaic and forgettable moments with uncanny familiarity. Each time he enters the body of Sean Fentress he harasses and provokes the passengers of the train to become a bully, all for the greater good of preventing more loss of life. Having lost faith in Gyllenhaall after Love and Other Drugs (2010), he more than redeems himself with his portrayal of the decorated Afghanistan Pilot caught between two worlds and matching vulnerability with machismo. Wright and Vermiga also put in some great performances as they both wrestle and justify the morals and ethics of the source code.
The strength of Source Code however surprisingly lies in the romance between Gyllenhaall’s Stevens and Monaghan’s Christina. There is a brilliant slow motion scene where after being dejected again Stevens savours the “final” moment he has with Christina as the train is being blown up on the eighth minute. Every time, he spends time with Christina he falls in love with her more, which makes the thought of losing her more painful. (Awww!)
Source Code is a brilliant homage to a variety of different films, more obviously Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap (Scott Bukala has a cameo as Stevens’ dad), and other films previously mentioned in this article. Comparisons will be made with Christopher Nolan’s Inception but Source Code is a better film, as it is not pretentious and definitely does not take itself as seriously. Having debuted with the art house hit Moon (2009), Duncan Jones (Zowie Bowie to you and me) has proved that he is equally adept in providing big budget thrills.