Synopsis: A helicopter pilot recruited for a top-secret military operation finds himself on a startlingly different kind of mission in Source Code, a smart, fast-paced action thriller that challenges our assumptions about time and space. Filled with mind-boggling twists and heart-pounding suspense, Source Code is directed by Duncan Jones (Moon).
Release Date: April 1, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Action
In Source Code, a man wakes up on a commuter train headed for Downtown Chicago. The woman across from him remarks that she took his advice. He is disoriented, unable to recall the events leading up to his arrival on the train, has no idea who the woman is, and thinks he should be in Afghanistan flying a helicopter. He gets up, goes into the bathroom and sees his reflection in the mirror; although it is not him he (we) sees but another man’s face. He is frightened, confused, and within minutes, without getting any answers, the train blows up. But he is not dead.
He is now in a metal pod-like space, attached to a chair, wearing a flight jumpsuit. A different woman speaks to him through a monitor on the wall, asking him what her name is, as he struggles to comprehend what just happened and how he got here. Before long the answers are revealed to him but with great restraint and purpose and not without his being sent back to the train multiple times. The puzzle pieces of his memory slowly resurface as he searches for answers both in the presumed present of the pod and on the train. The largest question, of how he is suddenly someone else on a train that blew up, takes a bit more explanation. The short version, he was in the source code; this man is Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former helicopter pilot who was stationed in Afghanistan on his third tour of duty.
Source Code is a very interesting piece of storytelling that is riveting to watch even with some minor flaws impeding it from greatness. Colter Stevens is on a mission to discover who bombed the train. It is not his mission to save any of the passengers on board–they are already dead. Are they? The boundaries of time reassignment vs. time travel vs. an alternate reality are heavily blurred each time Colter is sent back to the train. He knows his directive and does want to be successful, but he also desires answers to his own existence to fill in the gaps in his memory over the past two months. As well as answering the ultimate questions the viewer is dying to know, “Where is Colter Stevens, really?”, and “Why is the train always different each time he wakes up on it?”. This is a memory he is reentering and so how can we explain why small details are different? Is it Colter’s memories interfering with Sam’s (the man on the train) or something else? I know, enough with the questions without the answers. This is what makes Source Code a thrill to watch, it constantly challenges you to make conjectures about how everything is occurring. It may begin with simply the need to discover the bomber of the train but it quickly moves past this simple storyline to become something deeper.
Colter is a man living in a nightmare. Consider it for a moment, every eight minutes he blows up, over and over again. After a while, it does take an emotional toll. As well as his realization that all of the people on the train, including the woman who knows him, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), are about to (have) die and he can do nothing to warn them, or stop it from happening. Colter’s heroic nightmare is caught with every pang of emotion on Gyllenhaal’s face, and desperate plea to the woman who controls this mission, Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) or the mad scientist figure Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright).
The ending of Source Code may throw you a bit. It has the fatal flaw of delving into the overly melodramatic to give a glimmer of hope and satisfaction to the viewer when it would have been a better film, in my humble opinion, without doing so. By doing this though it opened a new dimension of science to be explored, and thought upon as you leave the theater because a clear and direct answer is not given. Perhaps because the answer is not something anyone understands within the filmic world and therefore the viewer cannot know either. It is a satisfactory twist ending, even with the melodrama mixing in with the science and repercussions of source code. Lastly, it has the always welcome surveying of morality, that makes for a collision of government science vs. the free will of man and his person — a cornerstone of many a science fiction film.
What is the source code?
This is the big question of Source Code and it is a fully developed answer screenwriter Ben Ripley provides. The source code is a form of time reassignment where when a person dies their memory contains the last eight minutes of their life. If a person meets certain criteria they can be transported into the other’s memory using the source code and experience what they experienced as well as alter events within this period of time but they cannot change the ultimate outcome for the individual, death. Make sense? Well, it does while watching the film and that is what counts. This film is a metaphysical science fiction thriller. It will challenge you but it also maintains a simplistic heroic storyline that makes it accessible to every type of viewer, not just the science fiction devotees.
As mentioned above, under production, is the movement towards the melodramatic in the film. Colter/Sam and Christina become a large focus on the romantic possibilities that could have been between her and Sam and it muddles the greater story. She is his one constant on the train, and the sole connection he has to Sam, but at the same time, she adds little, if much anything, to the greater story going on. All Christina can do is sit back and watch Colter desperately try and solve the mystery of who the bomber is and provide small tidbits of information when he requests them. Further analysis may place her as the symbol for humanity and precious life lost but there is not enough material to really substantiate it and so her presence is merely superficial. On a scientific level Source Code achieves great things with pushing the boundaries of the human condition, free will vs. controlled government environments, and the complexities of the universe and mind. On an emotional and relatable level, Source Code needed much more added depth.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Duncan Jones
- Screenwriters: Jordan Wynn, Ben Ripley
- Screenwriter(s): Jake Gyllenhaal (Colter Stevens), Michelle Monaghan (Christina), Vera Farmiga (Carol Goodwin), Russell Peters (Max Denoff), Michael Arden (Derek Frost), Jeffery Wright (Dr. Rutledge)
- Editor(s): Paul Hirsch
- Cinematographer: Don Burgess
- Country Of Origin: USA, France