Thursday, 1 September 2011
I saw Source Code a few months ago on its cinema release and my positive impression of it hasn't changed. The sophomore feature of Duncan Jones, director of Moon, Source Code only consolidates an impressive emerging pattern, and now directorial trademark of intelligently produced, original science fiction cinema. It is a very different film but it shares its DNA with Moon in this sense.
It works successfully on many levels. On its surface level as an action film, it fully exploits its setting on board a Chicago bound train; the minimal space, and the paranoia accompanying modern travel is effectively reproduced and amplifies the film's central premise - what would you do with only 8 minutes left to live ? This 8 minutes as it transpires is the last memory of a passenger killed in a terrorist attack on the train, and is being used by Jeffrey Wright's mad scientist to recreate a scenario for Jake Gyllenhaal's captain Colter, who must re-experience these 8 minutes to work out who the bomber is in alternate reality before they set off a bigger dirty bomb in real time Chicago. This is the function of Source Code: to temporarily recreate the past in order to change the future. It's a genial science fiction concept which resonates on the planes of philosophy and morality while creating a different spin on the sci-fi staple of parallel universe theories.
Colter is sent back several times through Source Code to catch the bomber, which means we keep returning to the same environment. But it rarely becomes dull despite this, and there are plenty of twists and false starts to vary the deja vu setup. One sequence for example makes a clever riff on the paranoiac assumption that all terrorists are non-white Muslim suicide bombers. But there is also plenty going on between the sequences which give the film emotional clout and a core of human sensitivity to the film which was also present in Moon. Without giving too much away, Wright's Dr. Rutledge and Vera Farmiga's captain Goodwin reveal to Colter that he is an unwilling test subject for Source Code, and each time he returns he is both given and makes ultimatums which will have consequences on his own life. With Colter flitting back and forth between the Source Code and reality, he begins to invest himself more and more in his assumed identity and becomes increasingly attached to Michelle Monaghan's passenger Christina, while realising that he can use the parallel reality to find out about Colter's. It's all finely but superbly balanced, and Gyllenhaal gives a nuanced and multi-faceted performance of a man trapped in a limbo of emotional and even metaphysical sorts. Colter is a man forced to visit the great beyond several times through Source Code as he inhabits Sean Fentress' last moments, and Gyllenhaal perfectly conveys the psychological weariness of having to face death time and time again.
Akin to a Philip K. Dick story, Source Code is also a highly intelligent science fiction film which engages with the ethical implications of its imaginary technological invention, much like the classic Blade Runner, the excellent Minority Report, and indeed Jones' first film, Moon. It sets Source Code apart from simply being a thriller with a science fiction element, to a sophisticated mind bender which imagines the possible moral questions should something like 'Source Code' ever exist, and is expressed through the growing sympathy of Farmiga's Goodwin for Colter, and her increasing doubts about the morality of the project.
Satisfyingly, the film endeavours to follow its ideas of quantum physics through to conclusion in its ending, which seems to have split audiences, but I think works perfectly, and plays cunningly with a Hollywood genre cliche in the process. Although it may be the clinching moment for some who see it less favourably (or miss the point altogether), I see it as a brilliantly inventive coda and shows the film hasn't run out of ideas, even as the credits are about to roll.