Monday, April 4, 2011

Source Code

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is trapped. He is trapped on a Chicago-bound commuter train in an eight-minute loop, the last minutes before a mad bomber blows up the train, an interval called a source code that exists in another dimension. This is part of a military project employing quantum physics hocus pocus to identify the mad bomber in order to prevent a plan to explode a dirty bomb in the center of the city (though why he needs to blow up a train when he’s going to destroy the whole city anyway is as hard to understand as quantum physics).

Colter is also trapped in a steel pod that at first resembles the interior of the kind of helicopter he has been flying over Afghanistan. Here he learns that he is being used as a cross-dimensional agent in an experiment designed to stop terrorism at the expense of enslaving Colter’s consciousness. This treatment of Colter, thrown back into those eight minutes like a poor student forced to do the same math problem over and over again, involves the best moments in Duncan Jones’s Source Code, a film that borrows from The Thirteenth Floor, Avatar, and Inception, and Gyllenhaal does an excellent job of making those moments dramatic, evoking Colter’s turmoil as he questions his existence, or non-existence, as he grapples with his assignment, and as he determines that he has more control over his existence and his duties than he has been told.

At times the film struggles against the monotony of its repetitious construct. The same shot zooming over a pond toward the railway route takes us back to the train again and again, to Colter’s developing relationship with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the woman sitting across from him, but there's not much they can do in eight minutes. Back and forth we go to the same details and events, sometimes slightly altered, but Gyllenhaal maintains the urgency. Meanwhile, Vera Farmiga, as Officer Goodwin, has nothing more to do than to look conflicted by the military’s experiment and to appear on the pod’s video screen like Big Brother controlling Colter’s destiny. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Rutledge hobbles around like a loopy scientist nerd, fretting when things go wrong, much more worried about his invention than Colter’s welfare.

I enjoyed this modest entertainment. Jake Gyllenhaal engages skillfully as he plots how to free himself from a trap within a trap. Or is it a trap within a trap within a trap? I also love science fiction even if nowadays that means scratching your head over perplexing questions. If you die in a dream, do you wake up? Whose dream is this anyway? What the hell is limbo? And, in the case of Source Code, if you send a text message from another dimension, will your cell be able to pick it up?


J.D. said...

Nice review! I am quite curious to see this one. I thoroughly enjoye Duncan Jones' first film, MOON.

FilmDr said...

I much preferred Moon. While well executed, Source Code struck me as kind of shallow, dependent on the same "action beat every ten minutes" that Lucas popularized with Star Wars, and reminiscent of Speed's propulsive momentum. I thought Colter's time in the pod was more interesting, especially as he experiences weird slippage, dripping liquids, freezing temperatures. Also, I thought the ending was a bit too calculated in terms of Hollywood happy endings.

Hokahey said...

J.D. and FilmDr, thanks for the comments. First of all, Moon is vastly superior to this film, but I enjoyed myself with this one. FilmDr, I agree that Colter's time in the pod was more interesting. I especially liked Colter trying to figure out exactly where he is and what's going on. Also, you're right about the ending.

Jason Bellamy said...

Or is it a trap within a trap within a trap? I also love science fiction even if nowadays that means scratching your head over perplexing questions. If you die in a dream, do you wake up? Whose dream is this anyway? What the hell is limbo?

I think that's one of the reasons I much prefer Moon, both to this and to, say, Inception. It's just so simple. It requires such little explanation.

In this film, Jones over-explains a bit too much. The truth is, all they need to say is "it's possible," and we go with it. But there are too many scenes in which Stevens is repeatedly told that it isn't time travel, and so on. Considering he doesn't know a thing about source code and Rutledge does, that should be the end of it. Amazingly, Stevens keeps insisting he knows better, which is kind of like me suggesting I know how a plane works because I've flown in them.

Hokahey said...

Jason - Thanks. Yes, Moon had a much simpler premise - and I agree that the "source code" was over-explained and I still didn't quite get it. With all its own convolutions, I much prefer Inception to Source Code. Inception is hard to explain too, but it goes through its many levels in such a cool way! I love it.