Source Code Dir. Duncan Jones

[Summit Entertainment; 2011]

Styles: sci-fi, thriler
Others: 12 Monkeys

Morning: marred military man’s memory murky, misplaced moniker; mission: master multiple machinations of manufactured moribund moment-memories as mass movie-murder menaces millions! The year is 2011: the phrase “source code” has entered the English lexicon, but enough of movie-going America doesn’t know what it means that a mixed metaphor can be constructed: this is… Source Code.

Well-considered was the choice to abruptly begin with a late point of action, knee deep in an unsettling paranoiac “episode” in which Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals to Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), the beautiful woman chatting idly with him on a train, that (to paraphrase) “he can see that she thinks she knows him, but he doesn’t know who she is.” This technique was used to great effect in many Twilight Zone cold openings: forcing audience identification upon an alienated character by thoroughly alienating the audience along with him.

Soon, Colter will learn that he has entered the “source code” — a Matrix of sorts — this being a program that allows users to travel back in time and enter the bodies of now deceased persons for the last eight minutes of their lives — in this case, that of someone named Sean Fentress, who was killed by a bomb detonated on a train shortly after speaking to a woman named Christina Warren. Colter must use [his magic powers] to stop the destruction of the train, track down the bomber, and stop him from detonating a second larger bomb that will kill millions of people in downtown Chicago later that day. Of course, he won’t be able to get it in one try, so the eight minutes unto death will be repeated on a number of occasions.

And I know what you’re thinking: it isn’t really as similar to Groundhog Day as everybody’s saying; but, as the eight minute sequence is repeated over and over again, Colter begins to develop a romantic relationship with Christina, so it is.

During the first restricted flashback, Colter can be seen to look into a mirror and identify someone other than Jake Gyllenhaal looking back at him. This is a philosophically interesting premise, as it forces to viewer to accept that the action he or she is witnessing, from the implied point of view of the main character, is actually a representation of that character’s subjective interpretation of the environment with which he is interacting, what he looks like as he moves about in it. But then again it’s also quite stupid.

I normally wouldn’t mention anything about the performances in an entry into a genre that generally discourages “acting”-acting, but I felt it was worth mentioning that I felt more strongly disinclined than usual to mention anything about the performances, even that they weren’t worth mentioning, which in turn was worth mentioning.

Still, it would be unfair to write Source Code off for its cosmetic similarities to [vastly superior] films, as director Duncan Jones and company work in a smattering of original ideas — such as Colter’s preliminary investigation of the increasingly familiar sequence, his interrogations of its players. The film is briskly paced and rarely boring, and while this is arguably quite easy to achieve when you have a very strict rule-based narrative constraint, Colter peels back screenwriter Ben Ripley’s expository layers slowly and strategically, keeping the viewer thoroughly engaged.

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