Source Code is the new film from Duncan Jones, who made his excellent debut two years ago with the powerful Moon. What Duncan Jones managed to do so well with his debut was to make a science fiction film that went back to the roots of the genre, delivering a film in which the futuristic setting is only another means of developing the film’s one character. In this way, the film recalls Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterful Solaris, rather than the dull explosions-in-space and battling-robots films into which the genre descended. With Source Code, Jones continues to bring back the adult sci-fi film, recalling here Terry Gilliam’s bleak masterpiece Twelve Monkeys.
Without getting too caught up in the intricacies of the film’s plot, Jake Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, a US army soldier who wakes up on a crowded train in the body of another man in mid-conversation with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), whom he doesn’t know. Not long after, the train blows up killing all of the passengers. Colter wakes up again, this time in the present, and it is revealed that he is being sent back in time for eight minutes at a time in order to find information on who bombed the train earlier that morning so that future bombs can be averted. Not unlike Groundhog Day, the same eight minutes are replayed with important variations each time.
As the comparison with a well-known comedy classic shows, Source Code is a film that could have fallen into unintentional comedy. Fortunately, however, it is a lot more Twelve Monkeys with its bleak ruminations on fate and mass death than the hilarious, though admittedly rather dark, Groundhog Day. This is the film’s major advantage and one that it shares with Moon, a certain fearlessness when pursuing the pessimistic and deterministic idea of the inescapability of fate and the inevitably of death. Source Code is a film with the courage of its convictions, one that explores its ideas without the misguided optimism of other Hollywood films. Though the ending may go the way of more conventional films rather than the full-on pessimism of Twelve Monkeys, it does manage that rarest of Hollywood endings – one that ends satisfactorily before adding on the audience-friendly ending (see Fritz Lang’s classic The Woman in the Window, though personally I prefer the second ending to that film), the perfect way to please everyone.
However, to constantly harp on about how clever and fearless the movie is, is to ignore the simpler pleasures of the film. As a big Hollywood thriller, it looks great with fantastically mobile camerawork and fast-paced editing. The little visual flights of fancy are enjoyable, though thankfully Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley know to keep these to a minimum. The film is also emotionally involving, with both its endings managing an emotional pay-off. The performances are all very good, and for the time that the film is playing, it is easy to be swept up in it.
Source Code’s main attraction remains the fact that is a big budget Hollywood film that is not afraid to think and one that does not need to resort to the comfort of an improbable happy ending. Not unlike last year’s Inception, the film points the way forward to future blockbusters that will be intellectually satisfying rather than effects-laden endurance tests aimed solely at young males.