REVIEW: Source Code [2011]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 93 minutes | Release Date: April 1st, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director(s): Duncan Jones
Writer(s): Ben Ripley

“I’d kiss you again”

If it seems familiar, well it is. Duncan Jones’s sophomore effort, after his one man-show Moon, is eerily similar to Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu from five years ago. But while the Denzel vehicle dealt more with police work and action, Ben Ripley’s script for Source Code delves deeper into the ramifications of the science fiction at play. Using the phenomenon that the human brain keeps an image of its last eight minutes alive coupled with the fact our minds continue to fire after our bodies have ceased to hold life, a governmental scientist has created a way to go into the past and look for clues to help avoid future tragedy. By imprinting those final moments into another person, the host can move freely within this shadow world to complete whatever mission necessary. So, if a terrorist bomb goes off, killing hundreds aboard a train outside of Chicago, a soldier can be sent into this perpetual loop, Groundhog Day-style, to investigate and find the bomber. But, even though Colter Stevens can relive it an infinite number of times, he is still working against a clock. He needs to find the culprit before the curtain rises on the real attack, this train bombing having been only the dress rehearsal.

We enter the film disoriented like our lead actor. Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens without a clue as to how he got onto a speeding train when his last memory was in Afghanistan, everything between here and there gone. A fellow passenger acts as though they are friends, calling him Shawn and talking about his advice to her. Stevens, with no idea what Christina (Michelle Monaghan) is saying or who she is, decides to explore his surroundings, soon finding he’s in Illinois, wondering if his father knows he’s home. Before any of the questions swimming around his mind can attempt to have answers, though, the train explodes in a ball of fire. Engulfed in the flames, Stevens awakens again, this time inside a metal capsule, harnessed in the air, starring at a computer monitor with Carol Goodwin’s (Vera Farmiga) face asking if he found the bomber. Still discombobulated and unaware why this military woman knows him, a memory recall code is spoken and knowledge of the program comes back. Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) are Stevens’s only link to the real world, his reentry reliant on helping them finish the mission.

He goes back again and again to glean information, profile passengers, and hypothesize what happened. The bomb is discovered, travelers with cell phones are catalogued, and suspects are followed. We are thrust back and forth between the eight minutes inside the Source Code—Rutledge’s name for the imprint used like an interactive VHS tape—where his heart battles between the mission and his wanting to save the people he knows will soon be killed, and reality, trying to understand fully what is happening from the woman in the machine and if his family was briefed to his safe whereabouts. Goodwin does her best to deflect answering with a broken record of ‘time’s running out’ and he is the only option to thwarting the inevitable tragedy at hand. The guilt weighs on Stevens and his desire to help keeps him going back, cultivating a familiarity with Christina and the knowledge that he has the power to get off the train and change history. It’s Rutledge, however, who explains the cold truth that he is merely changing a replay—the real world always awaits and the people who died stay dead.

Source Code then continues along as Stevens finds answers. He gathers facts, makes mistakes, and understands the value to the lives around him fated to perish. Gyllenhaal plays the role wonderfully, going from stern soldier familiar with protocol and rank to a scared young man with nothing more than his ability to save strangers from the clutches of death, whether his attempt affects reality or not. He has the confidence to win over a woman like Monaghan, (granted, her character was already interested in the person Jake inhabits), the compassion to understand the stakes, and the wherewithal to both do his duty for Rutledge and for Christina. He is the only role that allows us to fully understand a past, present, and future—Farmiga’s sympathetic handler and Wright’s calculating scientist reaching for notoriety live only moments between explosions and Monaghan’s love interest only in her final eight minutes breathing—so we can empathize and relate to his plight, pulling for his return to normalcy above the mission at hand. He has, after all, been forced into a situation due to parameters out of his control.

Moving towards its conclusion, you can question the validity of the science—the constructs of parallel dimensions, where consciousness exists, and questions of morality and the definition of life—but that is why the genre has ‘fiction’ in its name. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the film to go exactly where it does; making what’s assumed the central plotline merely a secondary situation allowing the characters to be pulled into the bigger picture. The revelatory twists and turns recall Jones’s debut film as Stevens becomes an isolated creature detached from the rest of the world, trapped in a manufactured existence to solve mysteries. Saving lives should be every hero’s dream, but when the extenuating circumstances come to light, the moral ramifications of what’s happening are shown scientifically while risking to dig up spiritual questioning. Where the filmmakers go is great, leaving us with a finish to springboard conversation. However, if they faded to black at the climax, a beautifully freeze-framed zoom out that’s pitch-perfect tonally and emotionally with loose ends tied neatly with a bittersweet tinge, instead of a heavy-handed physical representation of ideas the audience should be contemplating, I think the film could have been even more.

[1] MICHELLE MONAGHAN and JAKE GYLLENHAAL star in SOURCE CODE. Photo: Jonathan Wenk © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[2] VERA FARMIGA and JEFFREY WRIGHT star in SOURCE CODE. Photo: Jonathan Wenk © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[3] JAKE GYLLENHAAL stars in SOURCE CODE. © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

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