Source Code (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Source Code (2011)

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ANDREW LIKEWhether you believe there's a guiding intelligence to our lives or not, we're constantly going to be looking for signs that our conscious selves extend beyond what we know and experience here.  With each new wave of science and discovery the same age-old questions of mortality and morality are dug out.  Source Code closes with many lingering questions about what it really means to interact in the here and now, especially when we have so much evidence thanks to modern science that "here" and "now" may be some of the most subjective parts of our existence.

It's an exciting film, filled with ideas that are dealt with as directly as possible in an action/science-fiction film like this.  The director, Duncan Jones, has proved with this and his previous film, Moon, that he is capable of using film to push the collective subjective experience we have when watching a movie into new directions.  More so, his curiosity about science and those moral quandries that come up when new developments intersect with consciousness are profoundly fascinating.  In Moon it was with biology and cloning, and in Source Code it's with quantum physics.

Of course quantum physics is probably involved when you have the problem that Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has.  A flash of white light envelops his vision, and he comes to on-board a train surrounded by strangers and thrust into a conversation with Christina (Michelle Monaghan).  He tries to figure out what's going on when he takes a look in the mirror and doesn't recognize the man staring back at him.  Before he can figure out why he's suddenly taken residence in someone else's body, a bomb detonates on the train and Colter flashes back through the white, cast more as a thick web now, and into a small compartment in the middle of nowhere.

I loved the cluttered, hastily assembled look of Colter's pod.

Colter, it turns out, is part of an operation to figure out who it is that detonated that bomb because it was a warning shot threatening a larger-scale attack that will be taking place in hours.  When Colter flashes back he is entering the "Source Code" of the life of a passenger that was on the train, able to relive the minutes and final experiences of his life but taking control over what happens.  Colter's only contact to the outside world is Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farminga), who uses riddles and stories to bring him back to reality each time.  Because of the way the mechanism operates, Colter is kept separate from everyone and can only speak to her through a special computer monitor.  But with each trip Colter finds the grain of white seeping further into his vision and he can't keep the cold weather outside of his bay out for long.

Fans of thrillers will probably be able to deduce at this point that things aren't exactly as they seem.  But while the implications of Moon applied mostly to Sam Rockwell's space worker, the implications of the story in Source Code affect not only Captain Colter, but the whole of human experience.  If this is Duncan Jones' way of casting the net a little wider, I'm all for it.  The questions he raises have to do with our sense of consciousness and that there is no such thing as a "virtual" reality.  However we are choosing, or are forced to choose, to experience our surroundings is "real" to whomever is experiencing it.  No one person should get to say how the other experiences life, a point made late in the film by some economically silent choices made by Colleen on behalf of Colter.

Though certainly bolstered by keen intellects, movies aren't just thought pieces or articles about quantum mechanics, they're pieces of entertainment.  One of the ways Source Code manages to sneak in these ideas so effectively is by blending them seamlessly with a thriller that does not stop moving.  Both Colter and the army outside are working against the clock, Colter with his eight minutes and the army with the need to eliminate the threat against Chicago.  Duncan Jones works between the two levels seamlessly, propelling the action in Colter's chamber, the "virtual" world of the train, and the "real" world of the army all together to a surprisingly optimistic and affecting conclusion.

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal manage to carve out specific characters for themselves despite the constant timeline disruptions.

Duncan Jones' technique has a lot to do with the effectiveness here and he makes great use of the limited space between each environments.  He chose to film in a 1.66-1 ratio, flattening the world around Colter and company while reinforcing the "virtual" mean by which everyone is communicating with one another.  Then there's the matter of that "Source Code", representing (for lack of a better term) the human soul as a white web that stretches out across time.  His flashes to and fro show how much is affected by one being as Colter's vision begins to extend the white membrane to those he touches most directly.

Because of the nature of the picture this is mostly Duncan Jones' show, but not a single performer slacked off.  Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal are two of the only characters that really share screen time with one another and despite the time jumps, establish an easy and sweet chemistry.  Gyllenhaal proves an effective lead yet again, but I want to give some special praise to Vera Farminga's performance.  There are reasons for her flat affectation, but she does some remarkably sympathetic acting with her eyes and slight vocal quivers throughout Source Code.  Despite Colter's actions, it's Farminga's character that forms the moral core of the movie, and suggests much of the moral weight she has on her shoulders through barely saying anything but showing all.

In many ways, Source Code is the movie that Inception promised but failed to deliver.  It's got excitement aplenty, stays consistent with the terms and rules of it's world, and provides an immensely satisfying moral core at the end.  If anything, the success of both movies (and I pray Source Code is successful) indicates that we're slowly moving beyond the pessimistic core on how we look at science and life.  I came eagerly to Source Code then left thrilled and wonderfully thoughtful, which is not a bad way to start off the day.

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Source Code (2011)

Directed by Duncan Jones.
Written by Ben Ripley.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and  Vera Farminga.

Posted by Andrew

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