"Source Code" Exceeds Its Time Travel Conventions

“If you find the bomber, the next attack can be prevented.”

– Major Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga).

Do you ever go to a movie expecting one thing and discover that what you’ve seen in the trailers is almost completely deceptive? Actually, I like that. Such is a film is Duncan Jones’s Source Code, which more than anything else feels like a bigscreen episode of TV’s venerable anthology The Outer Limits, and I mean that comparison in the best possible way: Hardcore science fiction that pushes the boundaries of theory, technology and philosophy, yet never forgets the very real, human feelings of its characters.

You’ve seen the trailer; you know the set-up. After the destruction of a commuter train, Jake Gyllenhaal, as Army chopper pilot Colter Stevens, is sent back into time over and over to relive the train’s last 8 minutes. If he can find the bomb and the terrorist, a second even more devastating attack can be prevented. Sounds thematically a little similar to Tony Scott’s Deja Vu starring Denzel Washington…but it isn’t.

For one thing, it is explained to Stevens that he’s not really “time-traveling;” the Source Code process allows his brain to connect to the brain of a compatible donor who died on the train…but, if that’s true, shouldn’t he only be able to relive that man’s last moments, see and hear exactly what he heard and saw? The fact that he can interact with the other passengers, do things his donor never did, tips Stevens off that there is far more going on than what he’s been told.

It’s then that Jones reveals what his film is REALLY about, and it’s horrific. Devastating. Actually made me lay awake at night. Encompasses so much more than the simple “time conundrum” of other similar films like Deja Vu, and I’ve already said too much; suffice to report that, like I said, this is smart science fiction, like Inception, not some sledge-hammering alien invasion like Battle: L.A.

Of course, you’ve seen some of it before. There are unavoidable comparisons to Bill Murray reliving the same events in Groundhog Day, and Gyllenhaal, regressed in time, appearing in the mirror as the person whose space he’s inhabiting, like Scott Bakula in TV’s Quantum Leap. Nevertheless, because of the novelty of its approach and subject, I’m prepared to declare Source Code a brilliant original rather than a rehash of oft-used themes.

If there is a weakness, it’s that co-star Michelle Monaghan (Due Date), as a fellow passenger Colter’s “host” has flirted with for months, has too little development, but hey, she’s only got 8 minutes. Farmiga (Up in the Air), however, finds the moral backbone of the story, in one of her finest roles; and Jeffrey Wright (Cadillac Records), as the inventor of Source Code, is chillingly Frankensteinian. The story is about these people, not the unholy hardware they’ve created.

Source Code doesn’t look to have a lot of money behind it. There are more medium close-ups than I like to see. Nevertheless, the story, direction, acting and intent of the film hit the target with unerring accuracy.

Apr 3rd, 2011 | Posted in Travel
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