Source Code

source-code-2

B+

Time travel is theoretically possible, so long as you only want to go forward. It’s also relatively simple. If you caught that terrible pun, you can skip the next few lines — you’re already ahead of the game. Basically, the closer you get to the speed of light, the slower time moves for you relative to your surroundings. If you zoomed away from the earth at or near the speed of light, time would move slowly for you, but it would remain the regular speed here on Earth. So let’s say five years passed for you on your spaceship as you bounded across the galaxy. When you got back, 1,000 years would have passed here on earth and essentially you would have traveled into the future. Going into the past is another thing altogether. It can’t be done. Well, not that can be easily explained with today’s physics. Source Code says forget all that nonsense, we can go back in time, or at least we can appear to go back in time and maybe not change things, but fiddle around a bit.

The USAF — through some sort of quantum manipulation — sends a soldier, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), spiraling back into time and implants him for eight minutes at a time into the memory of someone who recently died. In this particular case, the dead guy is Sean (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a school teacher on a train that has just exploded. The explosion was an act of terrorism and the Air Force believes that if Colter can go back in time and find the person who planted the bomb, they can prevent the more deadly detonation of a dirty bomb.

Colter awakes in the body of Sean, completely discombobulated and unaware of his surroundings or why he’s there. Sitting across from him is his “train buddy” Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who is in the middle of telling him a story. Eight minutes later and before he can fully absorb his predicament, the train explodes and Colter is transported back through time into his regular body, which is strapped into some sort of capsule. Once back in the “real world,” he communicates with the Air Force through an LCD monitor inside the capsule. His liaisons are Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who tell him that he’s been selected for a special mission called “Source Code,” and that he is to go back and relive those same eight minutes over and over again until he finds whoever planted the bomb.

This sets up the cyclical nature of this film. You’ll find it impossible to ignore the similarities with Groundhog Day. Each time Colter goes back, he remembers things from his last eight minutes — like a train passenger stumbling and spilling coffee, or the train conductor asking for his ticket at the same time every time.

This is Duncan Jones‘s second foray into science fiction. His first, Moon, was one of my favorite films of 2009. It was dark, moody and thought-provoking. I can see why he was drawn to the script of Source Code. There are deep elements at play here as well: faith, destiny, science, time travel and morality are all woven into the fabric of this story.

The genius of Source Code is that if you want a straight-forward thriller, it’s there. It can be taken as all surface if you choose, but if you’re a more inquisitive film mind and you want deep meanings, or at least for a film to provoke more questions than answers, you’ll be just as satisfied.

The acting in this film is top-notch all around. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character undergoes a slight transformation each time he comes back to the train. He knows just a little bit more and becomes slightly more confident and wary. It takes real talent to portray those small differences from scene to scene well enough that the audience picks up on them.

With Source Code, you’re never quite certain that you have all the information or that you’ve hammered out all the details. This is a very good thing, and a rare one — trying to make the audience think while simultaneously entertaining them. Movie studios try to please everyone all of the time — they want as many wallets emptying as possible. And no doubt they should, it’s a business. But that usually means generic, easily palatable plots and characters. Source Code’s deceivingly straight-forward script moonlights as a plain-Jane thriller, while in reality it’s a multi-layered work of great science fiction.

tags: duncan jones, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, source code, vera farmiga

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