Monday, April 4, 2011
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?