Source Code is a sci-fi movie
And by sci-fi, I mean real sci-fi not a fantasy story with some spaceships in it (Star Wars), not a fantasy story with some machine guns (Avatar), not a fast paced space western (Star Trek XI)…
Source Code is a sci-fi film meaning that it uses technology as a means of conflict and eventually reflects on our own fears of mortality by using overexagerated technological concepts (and a lot of creativity).
Because I was late to the movie and missed the first 8 minutes and because it was in french I was at first not really sure what was going on, having only read that it is about trying to prevent an explosion in a train – but I guess like most movies of this genre confusion at the beginning is intended since those movies are meant to be watched a second time to see all the hints that were already placed at the beginning.
What I saw when I entered the theater (after realizing that this version had no subtitles) was a big Michael Baysplosion ripping apart a train and then we were in a completely metallic surrounding, a man (Jake Gyllenhaal – Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko) strapped to a seat and a woman is talking to him via a monitor. The entire scene screams dirty-sci-fi, taking us away from flashy, shiny surfaces, back to a gritty, conventional and more practical looking set, similar to movies like Twelve Monkeys or Alien.
The basic concept of Source Code is that Captain Colter Stevens is strapped to a device that enables him to travel back in time into the body of another man who died during a terrorist attack on a train. Because of quantum physics and parabolic equations (oh yes, we sound important and smart when we mention parabolic equations!) it is possible to link Stevens into this man, but only for the last eight minutes of the person’s experience (that part I didn’t quite “understand” since the french got real hard at that point – let’s just say they had to create some kind of plot barrier to avoid Steven going back 2 hours before the train explodes).
The movie focuses on Stevens living the same 8 minutes over and over again, waking up in the future (although that is only partially correct), giving his information to officer Goodwin (Vera Farmiga – Departed, Up in the Air) and then going back into the train where he always drops right into a conversation with a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan – Gone Baby Gone). The idea of preventing the terrorist plot is very similar to Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu (2006). While I enjoyed Déjà Vu because of its circle-narrative the forced action and romance dragged a very good concept down. With Source Code we basically got a polished (yet also different) version of Déjà Vu that while dealing with timetramel avoids the usual timetravel plotdevices (like a note from a guy from the future who turns out to be the protagonist himself or something like this).
The overall plot of Source Code is pretty easy to follow, but what makes it shine are two things:
concepts and human drama
I don’t want to spoil the concepts that are introduced here, since there are a lot, but the entire movie resolves around basic questions that we ask ourselves from time to time and the science fiction setting enables us to extrapolate and look beyond the possible.
A lot of those movies fall victims to losing the human element, creating amazing worlds that ultimately feel hollow and uninteresting despite their complexity – not Source Code and the reason for that is the direction by Duncan Jones.
If that name doesn’t ring any bell – he is the director of 2008’s Moon starring Sam Rockwell.
Both Source Code and Moon deal with the meaning of identity, the question “if I am not who I think I am, what am I?” the purpose in a life that seems to have no purpose and as Source Code progresses it features more and more similarities with Moon when it comes to portraying loneliness. Both movies feature protagonists driven to the edge of comprehension about their place in this universe, both do it very differently, but they share the same imagery of a man in a cold mechanical environment, shut away from the outside, unable to leave the place where he is at.
The entire movie (much like Moon) rest on the shoulders of the lead performance and Gyllenhaal does a fine job reliving the same 8 minutes over and over again his performance is good enough but kicks up a notch near the ending. The other actors are limited by the fact that they have to act similarly every 8 minutes and the cast outside of the timetravelling (mostly Vera Farmiga) are not really that interesting and just do their jobs as consultants (with a little drama but not that much), truth is the conflict lies within the movies character and the supporting cast seems to just go along with the motions.
Especially the character of Michelle Monaghan while not annoying feels more like an addition to have a love story in this movie than an actual story decision.
The movie starts of very strong. It suffers from the fact that the terrorist plot is just a big MacGuffin to set the plot into motion. So by a certain extent the terrorist plot and whodunnit story is not nearly as interesting and feels like the framework to tell the idea instead of a natural environment to extend the story.
The fact that I was not really invested in the terrorist plot led to me feeling a bit down around the 1hour 10 minutes mark of the movie, when the plot starts to progress and the motif of the terrorist is “revealed” and I was leaning towards “well the premise is ok, the movie is an ok movie”.
But then the final 15-20 minutes kicked in and I was completely swept away by how personal this story had become. I think in the last few minutes Jones shows us the story he really wanted to tell and the terrorist plot was just a means to get to this – but the end is well worth the wait.
As I mentioned before this is the moment when Gyllenhaal amps up the acting and really gives us the portrayal of a human being very similar to an equally touching scene in Duncan Jones’ Moon.
It is inevitable that this movie gets compared to Moon and in if I had to choose between the two my vote would go for Moon since the story is more rounded and focused. But thankfully I don’t have to chose! I can watch two fascinating sci-fi movies by a director I hope will bring on much more like this in the future. Source Code was obviously targeted to a wider audience than Moon, the setting is more complex, there are more than two actors and aforementioned love story seems to be a side product of “broadening the appeal”. Yet the movie never sells out. Despite some decisions that were clearly influenced by marketing choices Source Code keeps it in the sci-fi territory, delivering complex concepts and an emotional payoff at the end.
I would recommend this movie to all fans of true science fiction, but beware what people you take with you since this film can be an easy hit or miss. We were four people 2 of them enjoyed the movie 2 of them not really, so despite how I feel about this movie I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
But if you are interested in philosophical questions
If you like pondering about bizarre possibilities
Or if you just want to see a movie that doesn’t feel generic and warmed up
go watch Source Code
and afterwards Moon if you enjoyed Source Code and haven’t seen Moon yet.