Source Code

HOPSCOTCH: The latest sci-fi thriller from director Duncan Jones (‘Moon’) engages the viewer's mind and emotions while taking them on an entertaining and thought-provoking ride.
Source Code
What would happen if Groundhog Day, 12 Monkeys, Sliding Doors, Memento and Inception got scrambled on your hard drive? Duncan Jones’s sci-fi thriller Source Code would appear and, despite the riskiness of sharing similarities with so many iconic films, a refreshingly interesting and tense movie would begin to play.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a decorated soldier who repeatedly wakes up on a train on its way to Chicago, with a woman (Michelle Monaghan) sitting on the seat opposite. She appears to be a work colleague, but he’s never met her. Without giving away the plot, the train experiences some ‘difficulties’, on a loop, after which Captain Stevens continually wakes up in a strange chamber. There, mysterious military personnel interview him, explaining that he is on a mission and millions of lives are at stake.

As well as cleverly mixing the premises of the aforementioned films, Source Code combines such themes and concepts as terrorist threats, military morality, destiny, romance, and quantum physics. They come together seamlessly and, despite the extra Hollywood scenes that follow what should have been one of the most poetic and moving endings in blockbuster history, Source Code provides a satisfying journey that engages the mind and the emotions.

The film’s central theme is ‘many worlds interpretation’, a way of understanding quantum mechanics. Putting aside the hard science’s complexity (as Source Code mercifully does for the sake of entertainment), many worlds interpretation claims that all alternate histories and futures are real. So, the range of decisions you or I overlooked in the journey that has taken us to this point, exist somewhere in the universe. It is an interpretation that is, of course, strongly debated, but has provided implicit inspiration for many films, and explicit inspiration for Source Code (there are even some ‘many worlds interpretation 101’ segments in the DVD extras).

Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac, Love and Other Drugs) believably interprets the many worlds that Source Code demands of him. He is suitably enraged as he pieces together the nature of his mission – reliving last-gasp short term memories – in which he’s trapped, and delivers the appropriate emotional response when he discovers that mission’s chilling reality. Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) offer strong performances as Captain Stevens’s love and friendship interests respectively, but Jeffrey Wright hits a false note as the mad military professor responsible for the development and implementation of ‘source code’. His explanatory speeches are hammy and seem drawn from the 1950s, the age of ‘Wow, science fiction’ movies.

When I saw the Source Code trailer in the cinemas, I resolved not to see it, due to it appearing to be an Inception rip-off. It turns out the film rips off much more than Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster, but imitation is, of course, the greatest form of flattery. Using the many worlds interpretation central to its premise, Source Code could itself have resulted if the filmmakers responsible for the movies in this review’s first paragraph made different decisions. As it is, Duncan Jones’s Source Code world makes a worthy addition to the faulty memory/sci-fi thriller/reality-within-reality pantheon, and an entertaining and thought-provoking ride.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Source Code
Directed by Duncan Jones
USA, 2011, 93 minutes
Special Features: Cast Insights, Focal Points, Feature Commentary

Available to rent or own through Hopscotch Entertainment
Rated M

Paul Mitchell

Tuesday 20 September, 2011

About the author

Paul Mitchell is a Melbourne-based writer. His short fiction collection, Dodging the Bull (Wakefield Press) was part of the 2008 The Age State Library Summer Read. He has published two collections of poetry, Minorphysics (IP) and Awake Despite the Hour (Five Islands Press). Paul's essays and journalism have appeared in Griffith Review, The Age, Eureka Street, Meanjin and The Big Issue.