(2011) director Duncan Jones
viewed: 04/07/11 at Sundance Kabuki Cinema, SF, CA
Source Code is a science fiction thriller quite akin to a Twilight Zone episode. The film opens with Jake Gyllenhaal on a commuter train heading for downtown Chicago. Across the from him sits the cheery, pretty Michelle Monaghan, who talks to him like she knows him. Only he doesn’t know who he is, who she is, where he is, or what the heck is going on. As the train hurtles forward, his strange behavior and surreal sense of reality set of warning signals, but nothing prepares him for what happens next. The train explodes. Everyone dies.
But that’s only the first eight minutes.
Next thing he knows, he is in a chamber, isolated, with a Vera Farmiga, dressed in military dress clothes talking to him through a screen. He is confused. Says he was in Afghanistan with his troops, doesn’t know what’s happening. She soothes him with some coded messages and tells him that his mission is to head back into that previous eight minutes to find the bomb and the bomber and stop the slaughter of millions.
Frankly, the less you know about the story the better. And I’ll tell you, I actually thought the film was pretty good. Director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son and director of Moon, another science fiction film that focused on aspects of isolation and alienation, works up a pretty solid piece of entertainment here. Like I said, I enjoyed it. Will everyone? I don’t know. The looping sort of time travel narrative has been utilized before, perhaps utilized a lot. But the film is fairly lean and focused and keeps rolling through.
If the film sounds interesting to you, you can stop here and make a plan to see it. I don’t want to spoil anything for you in the plot twists and surprises that make for the film’s intellectual, puzzle-like mystery. Some have compared it to Inception (2010), with it’s twisty head-trippy convolutions.
But the film has some weaknesses. What turns out to be the villain and the villain’s reasons for doing what he’s doing are really lamely conceived. All that questioning, “who is the bomber?” and “why?” is pretty disappointing. And then while the film unreels the mystery of Gyllenhaal’s reality, “is he dead?”, “is he alive?” it tries to split off into further contemplations of reality, further twists, and eventually an ending that comes a few twists later than you’d hope.
And finally, this is a spoiler alert here, but I was kind of disappointed that when we finally saw Gyllenhaal’s “reality” self that he still maintained his cute face and nicely-groomed two day stubble, looking pretty and all (even though he’s lacking the lower part of his body). I really kind of wanted him to be just a brain stem or something more out there or gruesome, something more shocking or bizarre. Not warm and kissable. But that’s just me.
Maybe I have a weird idea of what a good plot twist might be.