May 17, 2011


I'm just pleased to finally be posting this ace
poster by Olly Moss
I am a big fan of Duncan Jones’ debut feature, the Sam Rockwell starring Moon. It was a low-fi effort, more interested in tackling ideas than explosions and helped to kick-start the low budget intelligent sci-fi mini-golden age we have going on (see also Monsters and the forthcoming Another Earth). It was one of my favourite films of 2009 and I was intrigued to see what Jones would do with a more Hollywood styled film. Off the bat, you can see he has an obvious love of the old, 70’s sci-fi films with the opening music putting in my mind of the great, atonal Planet of the Apes score. The film manages to be a step up for Jones, while offering a different flavour than Moon but losing none of the intelligence.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens (awesome name), a US Air Force helicopter pilot who finds himself aboard a Chicago-bound train and sitting across from a beautiful woman he doesn’t know, but knows him (…sort of). Stevens has actually been jumped into the body of teacher Sean Fentress in the last eight minutes of his life; Stevens is in “the source code”. The source code deals with quantum wave functions and other techno-sci-fi waffle that serves to get us into the plot: Stevens is part of an experimental US Air Force programme and his mission is to find and identify (not stop; it's already happened) the train bomber. He is sent back to relive the same eight minutes again and again and again; the bomber has threatened to detonate a dirty bomb in Chicago and time outside of the source code is running out. It doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense if you think about it for too long, but the science is hardly the point of it; it’s like a more intense Quantum Leap, if each episode ended in an explosion.

In the course of his leaps back Stevens falls for the woman across from him, Michelle Monaghan's Christina. So he not only tries to identify the bomber, but save her too. As he is repeatedly told by his Air Force liaison (Vera Farmiga) and the crack-pot source code inventor (Jeffrey Wright), this is impossible; the source code is not time travel but “time re-assignment”. Events have happened and cannot be changed. Or rather, it is the outcome that cannot be changed as Stevens is altering the environment just by being there. Ok. I’m starting to bake my noodle thinking about this; writing about it I feel like my brain has set itself into some sort of continual loop. I’ll try simplifying it: source code TIME TRAVEL BODY JUMPING! Gyllenhaal GOOD! Monaghan GOOD! Farmiga CLASSY! Wright SCIENTIST DOUCHEBAG! Jones AWESOME! Source Code WELL MADE INTELLIGENT POPCORN SCI-FI FILM! Watch now pleasethankyou.

Ahem. Its interesting watching as the central relationship between Colter and Christina develops over the course of the film; in relative terms it happens in a very short space of time. But we experience it as Stevens does, linearly, over the course of the film and we can see it changing and growing. That’s an achievement in of itself really, but Jones tops that by making the final eight minute trip (the nth repeat of the same timeframe) no less thrilling, perhaps even more so, than the first time.

I get the feeling that Source Code is a film that could have easily been something a lot less interesting, a lot less intelligent, with another director. Jones quite handily steps up his game and proves himself with a more commercially minded, but no less smarter, film. Source Code isn’t faultless but it’s a fun, thrilling ride with a sci-fi taste and made by people who actually give a damn. Not to get all grumpy old man on you, but we need more films based on original concepts, and made by directors with a personal vision. I look forward to Duncan Jones' next.

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