“The source code is a gift, Don’t squander it by thinking.” — Dr. Walter Rutledge, “Source Code”
I could spend this review nitpicking “Source Code” to death. It’s definitely got a couple plot holes, and some science that doesn’t make much sense. But the fact of the matter is while “Source Code” is chugging along it’s a terrifically entertaining puzzle movie. Let’s not squander that by thinking too much.
The setup, explained in the trailer, is “Groundhog Day” by way of Tony Scott’s less fun but more thoughtful “Deja Vu.” US Army Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is recruited by a top secret government program called “source code.” Using technology that certainly demands allegiance to Dr. Rutledge’s aforementioned quotation, Gyllenhaal’s consciousness is able to enter the body of a man on a Chicago commuter train eight minutes before it was blown up by a terrorist bomb earlier that very morning. Stevens’ got those 8 minutes to solve the mystery of who planted the bomb and where they plan to strike next. After each explosion, Stevens warps back to his own body, where he’s debriefed on his findings, then sent back onto the train to uncover more clues. Stevens is told he’s only moving through a simulacrum of the past, so stopping the bomb or evacuating the passengers on the train is meaningless: the event has already transpired and everyone onboard is already dead. But that doesn’t stop Stevens from falling for the woman he wakes up across from each time the source code begins (Michelle Monaghan), or from trying a way to save her. Fittingly for a story about time loops and the immutability of destiny, most of the action takes place on a train, a method of transportation which travels in only one direction and only on the path that has been predetermined for it.
Based on the shifty behavior Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Rutledge as Stevens’ source code handlers there’s clearly more to this technology than first meets the eye, and having dueling mysteries — the identity of the bomber and the true nature of source code — keeps the film thrumming along at a very satisfying pace. “Source Code” was directed by Duncan Jones, who last made the superb indie sci-fi movie “Moon,” and is quickly proving himself a major force in the world of smart, character-driven science-fiction. He’s also a very good director of actors. He got at least three memorable performances out of Sam Rockwell in “Moon” and I like the choices he and Gyllenhaal made in their conceptualization of Stevens, who behaves more like a regular guy than a meathead action hero. He reacts to source code the way any of us would: with confusion, anger, and a bad attitude. Can you blame him? He’s knows that every eight minutes he’s going to get blown up against his will. And that can’t be a fun feeling.
In other words, Dr. Rutledge wouldn’t be a fan of Duncan Jones films. The good doctor may not want us to squander his source code on thoughts, but Jones’ clearly intends his “Source Code” for viewers ready to question the larger implications of the technology than enables Stevens’ repeated trips to the past. The film’s ending is particularly unusual for a modern science-fiction film thanks to its emphasis on its hero’s personal growth rather than big explode-y action sequences. Still, as refreshingly atypical as that ending is, it also has a darker angle that the movie kind of ignores and which suggests Stevens’ behavior isn’t quite as heroic as it’s made out to be. But there I go thinking again.