SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 31, 2011
Director: Duncan Jones
Writer(s): Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Okay soldier. You are in an isolated container of some sort. We are communicating with you via a television monitor. When you get too confused, we will show you some playing cards to jog your memory. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the train ride. It is not your train ride, it is a dead teacher’s train ride, but we hijacked the final eight minutes of said teacher’s memory, and we will continue to send you back, soldier, to relive those very same eight minutes over and over again until you solve the puzzle. What is the puzzle? Plain and simple: find the bomber, save the world. And remember, this is purely a simulacrum of the past—it can in no way effect the present. Time travels in one direction, just like the train you are on. This is not time travel. Reality is already in the past, you cannot effect the present. Whatever you do, please do not try to save the pretty woman seated across from you. She is not your mission; she is already dead.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the soldier in isolation going through an existential crisis, a predicament that is not all that dissimilar to Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell’s lead character from director Duncan Jones’ astounding cinematic debut, Moon). Like Sam, Colter is all alone with very limited (and restricted) telecommunication functionalities. Colter’s last recollection of reality is when he was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot fighting in Afghanistan; now, his only connections to the outside world are the flickering television images of a fellow soldier, Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), and her mad scientist boss, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). Colter does not remember signing up for this mission, whatever it is. According to Dr. Rutledge, the mission is part of the Source Code, which is “a powerful weapon in the war on terror.” (When we learn the truth behind the Source Code, that single statement resonates with countless ripples of profundity and terror.)
With fleeting allusions to Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day and a roundabout of Alfred Hitchcock films, Source Code is essentially a long lost episode of Quantum Leap during which the DVD purposefully skips a few dozen times before reaching the end of the third act 90 minutes later. The train and the whole eight minute thing seemed to jog a classic R.E.M. lyric from my memory: “Take a break driver eight, you’ve been on this train to long…”
It seems far too easy to nitpick Source Code to pieces, especially the scientific logic behind Dr. Rutledge’s theories of his Source Code. The scientific explanations seem incredibly thorough (and overly explained), yet in retrospect they do not make any sense. And I fear that Jones reveals far too many cards, way too soon. Personally, I would prefer a lot more ambiguity, or I at least want to have more time to theorize about what is really happening to Colter.
What really irks me about Source Code is that it has one of those endings that is totally schlocky, yet Jones can always fall back on the excuse that the final scenes are probably all in Colter’s mind. But the conclusion confirms for me that Source Code is pure Hollywood fodder—okay, that is a slight exaggeration. Source Code is certainly more intelligent and better acted than most Hollywood films. But Moon is quantifiable evidence that Jones can do much better than this; there is something very special about Moon and Source Code pales in comparison.