A multitude of films are identified as thrillers, but Source Code
truly deserves this designation. Directed by Duncan Jones and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code
. provides a gasp-out-loud, squirm-in-your-seat, nail-biting experience that may well put you off train travel for the foreseeable future. Much of the credit goes to Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga for making a really, really, out-there situation seem believable.
Cpt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in the “source code”, a computer program that allows “time re-assignment”. As its inventor Dr. Ruteledge (Jeffrey Wright) explains, it allows the subject to re-live the last 8 minutes of someone’s life. Understandably, Stevens is confused. He was on a commuter train barreling toward Chicago, an attractive woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) whom he doesn’t know seems to know him and calls him Sean, he looks in the mirror and sees someone else’s face, and then the train blows up. Suddenly Stevens is in a capsule-like enclosure, strapped into a cockpit-like seat, gasping for air and trying to make sense of what just happened. He’s disoriented and upset, and there’s a woman on a video monitor “retrieving” his memory through a verbal code. Cpt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) is Steven’s contact with the “real” world and seems to be in charge of reminding him of his “mission”. He is told repeatedly that there is no time for lengthy explanations because of the catastrophe they are trying to prevent. Yes, a train has blown up on its way to Chicago, and everybody on board was killed. Stevens is told that he best fit the physical requirements for this mission and that he was chosen for his “natural heroic nature”. His mission is to locate the bomb and the bomber before said bomber can blow up a “dirty” bomb in Chicago. He has to return to that last 8 minutes time and time again until he finds the bomber. With each return, he becomes more and more interested in Christina and longs to save her. Cpt. Goodwin is sympathetic to his plight, but constantly reminds him of the close time frame they’re working with. She calls in Dr. Ruteledge who explains to Stevens that Christina is already dead, that the 8 minutes he keeps returning to have already occurred, and the outcome cannot be changed. He insists that Stevens focus only on his mission, but Stevens has noticed that with each return, there are subtle differences. At one point, he’s able to prevent some soda from spilling on his shoe as it did in the many previous “trips”. Therefore, he begins to believe that he can indeed save the people on the train, and thereby Christina, by disarming the bomb before it goes off. He also knows that as a military officer, he must complete his mission of preventing the future “dirty” bombing. Faced with two conflicts and diminishing time, he races to put his put his plan into motion.
Visually, the film is striking. Opening with sweeping aerial shots of Chicago’s massive and breath-taking sky-scrapers , the camera zooms in on the commuter train blazing through the countryside. The explosion scenes are terrifying and realistic in contrast with the interior shots of the commuters going about their every-day business, ignorant of their fate. The interior of Stevens’s “capsule” is all metallic, dark, and cold which highlights the character’s isolation and sense of alienation. The film doesn’t dwell on the science behind the story, revealing just enough to allow the plot to move along at its hair-raising pace. Let’s just say that it has to do with quantum physics and alternate realities. The human story within the science fiction story becomes the focus and allows the audience to identify with Stevens’s anguish. Gyllenhaal makes him so believable and heroic that you buy into the idea of his success even though he’s been told time and again that it’s impossible. Will he save Chicago? Will he save the woman he’s come to love? The revelation of the “reality” of Stevens’s mission and his past, and the source code will most likely not be what you think it will be. It’s a fine film!
Note to trivia buffs: the telephone voice of Stevens’s father is Scott Bakula. Remember Quantum Leap?