Duncan Jones’ follow-up to his impressive directorial debut Moon (2009) is another claustrophobic sci-fi with an air of mystery. Source Code throws us right into the action without any explanation, as we see Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Captain Colter Stevens wake up on a train with no idea how he got there. Stevens was a U.S. helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and can’t remember what has happened to him since his time in the warzone. On the train, he sees his reflection and doesn’t recognise the man staring back at him, a woman sitting opposite him calls him Sean, and after eight minutes there is a huge explosion.
The next thing he knows, he is strapped inside a dark and confined capsule. A military official on a video screen tells him that he needs to find out who bombed the train in order to avert an even larger catastrophe. The commuter train that he found himself on was bound for downtown Chicago when it exploded, killing more than 100 people on board. Using new technology called the Source Code, a suitable candidate can go back into a person’s final eight minutes before their death and can interact with their environment to find out what happened. Captain Stevens has been sent back into Sean Fentress’ last moments on the train. He is told to look for clues and try to identify the bomber, and is sent back into the Source Code for a number of times to experience the same eight minutes over and over.
Similar events occur each time: a woman spills her coffee on his shoe, the conductor asks for his ticket to stamp, a man with motion sickness goes to the bathroom, another man leaves his wallet on his seat and a young guy catches up with him to return it. Stevens’ actions affect what happens but after eight minutes he always goes back to the small capsule (referred to as ‘beleaguered castle’) and the Source Code resets when he next goes in.
The Source Code, developed by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) for the military, is described as a revolutionary and powerful weapon against terror. They hope to prevent a second attack imminent in downtown Chicago. People are trying to evacuate the city and the authorities are frantically trying to find out who the bomber is so they can stop them before it’s too late. Stevens is told that reality can’t be altered from within the Source Code because it’s just a memory of what has happened in the past. It wasn’t designed to alter the past, it was designed to affect the future. However, after Stevens returns over and over again, he wants to stop the explosion and save the people on the train and believes he can do so.
Source Code is a science fiction film that tells a very human story. Like Moon, it follows a sympathetic protagonist trapped by his isolation and his surroundings. It deals with issues of identity and mortality. Some of the highlights come from Stevens’ interactions with the other train passengers, as he tries to find out which one of them planted the bomb. These create moments of tension and mystery as we see the consequences of his actions. The writer, Ben Ripley, developed Source Code from an original idea and it marks his first theatrically released project. The script focuses on character rather than action-packed thrills or fights and it definitely leaves you with lots to ponder.
The film is slightly constricted by the repetitive nature of the plot. It benefits from the moments when Stevens deviates from the norm and from the change of location when the action switches from beleaguered castle to the military base and to the train. The final moments of the film feel like a forced Hollywood ending as it goes against some of the rules laid down by the scientists in the film. However, it does raise interesting questions about the technology and whether they failed to fully realise what it was capable of.
Source Code has some strong performances, from leading man Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan as the lady on the train he slowly finds himself falling for, and Vera Farmiga as the military official who empathises with his plight. The film also has a good screenplay and a talented director with lots of future potential who can deliver a dramatic and entertaining experience.
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