When it comes to science fiction movies and Hollywood, I’m probably one of the luckiest people around. Because I saw Moon, Duncan Jones’ first film, in theaters in its initial release. Moon, as I said in my review of Sunshine, is nothing short of brilliant. It is one of the finest science-fiction movies made in the English language, primarily for being one of the simplest. It doesn’t lie to you to insist it’s intelligent, it doesn’t conceal any information from you. Facts are facts and they are presented as fact and you have to decide from there what you think about everything. Source Code is Duncan Jones’ second feature, and it’s getting a significantly wider release. Before I say anything else about it, I want to say this: go see Source Code. If you like science fiction and if you like movies with a healthy amount of intrigue, action and explosions, Source Code is the movie for you. It is a fine film, and one that is worth seeing in theaters on as big a screen as you can find.
Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot who was stationed in Afghanistan before waking up in the body of Shawn Fentress, a Chicago-area teacher who is on a train. Sitting across from him is a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who is talking to him about taking his advice and quitting her job. He has no idea why he’s on the train or where he is or who sent him there until, in eight minutes time, the train explodes, taking everyone with it. He wakes up back in a capsule with a video link to the outside where a Ms Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) is telling him that he only has so long to find out who the bomber is on the train and get some information on him. Stevens, you see, has been drafted into service delving into what is called the “source code”: the last eight minutes of memory someone has before they die. Keeping Fentress’s brain alive and using Stevens to go into his mind, Stevens needs to find the terrorist before he strikes again, killing millions of people in downtown Chicago.
The thing I really loved about Moon is that there is no central “twist”. The movie is instead a collection of twists and reveals commonly termed a “plot” in some circles. And in this manner, Source Code is definitely carrying on in Jones’ signature style. Source Code bobs and weaves through so many plot points and emotional peaks and valleys that it’s difficult to summarize the plot without spoiling a lot of it for the audience. I can say this safely: the movie in the theater is not the one being sold in the trailers. In the promotion for this movie, someone in marketing decided to portray this film as a bog-standard thriller: Jake Gyllenhaal must stop the bomb on the train from exploding and save all of these people before eight minutes are up. In reality, the first trailer summed it up perfectly: the source code isn’t real. It’s a simulation. There’s no way any of his actions aboard this train can possibly have any effect in reality, so accidentally falling for one of the passengers and vowing to save her doesn’t sound like the brightest idea when you can, instead, find the bomber and save Chicago.
And fall for one of them he does indeed. But hey, who can blame the guy? Sat next to Michelle Monaghan, trying to save the world? I’d fall for her too. And Gyllenhaal does a great job of anchoring his performance in reality. So many movies have tacked on romantic plots and so many movies have romance used as a reward for other actions that it’s nice to find a science-fiction movie where love at first sight is a central motivator. There was a love story in Moon, but it was between a father and an estranged daughter, providing a note of somber reality to the proceedings. The love in Source Code is indeed romantic, so however you feel about that is how you feel going in. Coming out of it, however, I assure you that you’ll feel the same way as I do. Gyllenhaal and Monaghan aren’t relying on the script or the director for a legitimate romance in this movie, and they make it work. Especially when Monaghan has to spend nearly all of her scenes in the first half of the movie saying the exact same thing, over and over again.
Now, if I were to choose one issue with this movie, I’d have to put it down as the ending. I can’t spoil it for you, which means I can’t just tell it to you, which means it’s gonna be rather hard saying what my issues are, exactly. Let’s go with a movie whose ending we all know: Back to the Future. In Back to the Future, the ending is happy. Very happy. It’s almost the mega-happy ending from Wayne’s World it’s so jubilant. But amidst all that happiness, in the intervening 26 years, people have found some very weird and unhappy implications in that ending. I’m not saying Source Code involves time travel–it doesn’t–but I am saying that the ending will have you asking more questions than you should be.
But that is not a fault that lies with Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright or Duncan Jones. That is not the fault of anybody on the set of this movie during production, and I don’t think I’d even blame Ben Ripley, who wrote the screenplay. An ending is an ending, and Source Code has about three viable ones before it actually finishes. Could those have been cut? Sure. Would it have made it a better movie? I don’t know. I don’t know, and you know? I don’t care to know. Source Code is a brilliant and involving thriller from this generation’s sci-fi auteur, and if you don’t go see it, he’s never gonna get the budget he deserves, like James Cameron does. THREE AND A HALF STARS