Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie) is a talent that displays thematic consistency in his second film, Source Code. This thematic consistency is both a blessing and a curse. Source Code is not exactly Moon 2, but both films tell anti-establishement moral tales about abused workers in a realistic Big Brother setting. Is this the sign of an auteuristic filmmaker that truly controls his works? Or is this a big budget sophomoric retread of his sundance hit? It is simply too early to call. I am leaning towards the former, if only because Source Code is wildly entertaining and more tangibly thought provoking than even Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
The trailers for Source Code make you think you already know the plot, but there is a little more than meets the eye. However, I am going to go ahead and quote every other film critic in the country and declare that it does indeed resemble a blend of Groundhog Day and The Matrix. It tells the story of a military officer, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wakes up in another man’s body in the last eight minutes of that body’s life. He is on a train that is about to explode. He must relive these eight minutes until he can stop the bomb and discover who planted it there to prevent a future attack. The idea of the simulation and the reliving of the same time frame cause the film’s indentification with Groundhog Day and The Matrix. But this scenario is only the setup for a much more interesting and elaborate story.
The film exists in its own world that has its own physics that the film chooses to define as ground rules. What is fascinating here is that the military commanders that discovered the Source Code technology seem unaware of what exactly they have discovered and the second half of the film is about Stevens’s (Gyllhenhaal’s) discovery. While Inception pulled a similar gig last year, the concept of breaking into dreams to steal ideas (are dreams and ideas even psychologically related?) is pure fantasy. Also, the physics of Nolan’s world are spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio in annoying exposition to the many-questions Ellen Page. This happens in the film’s first act, wasting the narrative power of the revelation. Source Code is much more thought provoking because it never fully breaks from realism and allows the viewer to ignorantly explore uncharted territory in the third, climactic act. The mind-bending aspect of the film comes from very real concepts (even if the physics are absurd). I realize that I am speaking in generalities that may seem incoherent. But it is all in an effort to avoid spoiling anything (although I suspect many of you have seen the film). It is a film best viewed with the minimum amount of knowledge.
So the film impressed me as an action film, as a mystery (even as a whodunnit), and as a philosophical mindfuck. But it is not without a handful of wrong turns. The screenplay has some awkward dialogue and one–dimensional characters, including the cheesy scientist villain in charge of Source Code. This is what keeps the thought-provoking, well acted, and beautifully shot film from being a great film. The end result is a very good film that is still best observed whilst consuming copious amounts of buttered popcorn.
Where I find the disconcerting similarities to Jones’s previous film, Moon, are in the third-act revelation. Here it is revealed that he is being abused, that his promises will not be fulfilled, and that he is potentially one of many identical versions of himself. If that wording doesn’t clarify the similarities I’m not sure what will. I don’t think these repeated narrative moves and thematic elements destroy the film or are even as harmful as the film’s occasionally awkward dialogue. But they question the direction of the clearly talented Duncan Jones.
All in all, Source Code is quality entertainment that has a powerful and serious philosophical scenario that resembles the best of The Twilight Zone. If you want a mindfuck of a film, here it is. If you want a serious addition to the mind-bending subset of science fiction, you will find yourself disappointed. Keep your expectations reasonable and this jigsaw puzzle of a film will have you thinking for days.