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Just so’s you know, I will be doing a spoiler-free review until I’m not anymore. I will warn you about it, but mostly this is a review for people who have seen the movie or don’t give a fuck about spoilers. Anyway, let the games begin.

Duncan Jones is a big deal. He’s not only David Bowie’s son, which is just plain cool, he is also the science fiction auteur who gave us Moon. Why is Jones an auteur? He has stylistic impulses that he can let through even with a bigger budget and more compromises required, which would be the case for a film on the scale of Source Code. A lot of people were worried he’d fumble the ball or something but I can tell you that he hasn’t. Source Code is a very good movie with a lot of entertainment value for people who could give a fuck about the metaphysical ramifications of its science fiction conceit. Of course, that is my shit right there so I’ll be spending a significant amount of time talking about those elements in the spoiler section. What you, dear unspoiled reader, need to know is that those elements are there and the movie will reward you with a ludicrously brazen mindfuck that Diddy would be proud of. I’ve said that it’s a metaphysical science fiction with an action thriller coatopaint and I stand by that. It’s also pretty light which is interesting considering the dark nature of what’s really going on with the Source Code project.

Brass tacks: the movie is about Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal), a helicopter pilot who thinks he’s in Afghanistan at first but has been drafted into a secret program involving reliving 8 minutes of quantum memory leftover from a guy who died in a terrorist attack. He has only a limited amount of real time to relive those 8 minutes as many times as he can to figure out how it all went down and hopefully who is responsible. His handlers are Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a deskjockey military officer, and Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), an eccentric scientist of some kind. They brief him, cajole him, offer him rewards, but are ultimately not his real link to what he’s doing. That comes in the form of Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a beautiful young woman that Colter keeps meeting on the train, piecing together that the person he’s hijacking had some kind of budding relationship with her. That person is Sean Fentriss. You’ll want to remember that name for later if you’re going to read the spoiler section.

Anyways, the plot is pretty much a twist on 12 Monkeys or Groundhog Day and you’ll kind of know what to expect going in. The movie wouldn’t work if it didn’t manage to strike a balance between familiar and fresh with this structure. It also wouldn’t work if the big twist you’ll assume 10 minutes in came much later in the film. It is revealed early enough that the proceedings are injected with more drama, more urgency, and the beginnings of the emotional and ethical subtext of the film. This is make or break. If you roll your eyes it’s game over, but if you stick with it and feel for Colter’s plight that extra few inches the movie asks of you, you’ll be along for the ride up to the point of all that fun metaphysics I mentioned.

Because we’re dealing with a movie where the conceits actually act against character development, we’re asked to accept some things about the central characters which may feel unearned. This is a minor flaw, if a flaw at all. It’s not like the character are archetypes, we’re just asked to take some of their decisions and particularly the decisions they make about each other at face value without necessarily being prepared for it. I’d say more but it would be verging into spoiler territory pretty fast. I can say that the biggest issue this brings up is that we’re supposed to accept Colter’s attraction to Christina in pretty short order. Some have described this as a love story, but I think it’s more like a proto-love story. More the first salvo in a love story than some kind of compressed fullness which you might expect they’d attempt in a movie like this. We don’t really need for it to develop all the way to buy it by the end, as we can see Colter’s connection to the passengers on the train is simply embodied by his connection to Christina, who he must wake to and deal with for at least the first 45 seconds to a minute of every jaunt back, unlike any other passenger. The point is: what we need to accept the “love story” is present in the film if you care to look. This is not stopping audiences from feeling like it’s too contrived, though, so your mileage may vary.

What gets us over the hump of these lightly sketched characters is that they got such good actors to play them. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan are instantly likable when they want to be, with Gyllenhaal carrying some heavy emotional beats and a lot more humor than you might expect on top of it. Vera Farmiga is basically a face on a screen for most of the movie but you couldn’t ask for a better actress to pull something so contained off with the depth we get here. A lot of people have pointed to Wright as doing a lot with a little but I found his character a bit jarring. I think it’s in the line delivery as Rutledge has an affected speaking style that I found cartoonish. The secondary characters, which are barely characters, are memorable more for the way Gyllenhaal interacts with them than for anything they do on their own. The exceptions are Russel Peters who plays a bitter struggling comedian and the villain, who I won’t say much about to avoid giving away too much, but who is just different enough from the run-of-the-mill to be interesting while also being slight enough to allow the movie to get past him when it needs to. Both of these guys stand out and Peters especially gets a nice, unexpected hero moment at the end.

There is some clever camerawork, particularly in setting up that each iteration of the Source Code is slightly different (which provides the groundwork for accepting something Colter works out later). This is mostly delivered by showing Christina in slightly different poses, saying slightly different words, each time. The dual purpose of this is evidence of how carefully thought out this movie is. The thoughtfulness of it is admirable and helps achieve some goodwill from an audience that will expect more whiz bang action or “get the bad guys” than it ultimately delivers. In fact, once we get to the point that Colter “cracks the case”, it’s starting to become a subplot more than the main thrust of the story the movie is telling. This is very, very clever but will play against expectations in a potentially bad way for some people. Fuck those people, though, they should stick to the National Treasure vein of action thriller. Yeah, I went there.

Okay I think I’ve managed to properly review the movie now. You have no idea how hard it was to keep off the spoiler. Now I can go there! But first, to remind us that there are shots in this movie more beautiful than Gyllenhaal going full-retard, there is this:

© 2010 Vendome Pictures

The SPOILER-TRAIN Cometh

So if you’ve seen the end of the movie you know that Colter Stevens is dead and he has successfully hijacked Sean Fentriss’s body in a new reality that the very act of changing the Source Code has created. Whether or not alternate realities exist for every possibility anyway (a principle of Quantum Physics, I’m pretty sure), the idea is that Colter somehow understands that the Source Code is more than a simulation. The fucked up thing is that to live on in the reality he has created, Colter has to replace Fentriss and this means that the perfect scenario Colter creates in the final part of the movie, in which everyone on the train is saved and Russel Peters makes everyone laugh, has one casualty: Sean Fentriss.

So. Let me put that another way: to survive Source Code and Goodwin unplugging his shit, Colter must murder Sean Fentriss on some weird metaphysical level. Of course, Fentriss is dead in any reality where Colter doesn’t replace him and there’s still a bomb on that train with him on it. The implications are severe and never directly dealt with by the film. This is what I meant when I said it’s winking at us. And even this would have been enough to make me see this movie with a lot of appreciation for the thought behind it.

Then of course, it took it one step further. See, people are going to be confused by the events of the last part of the movie. What’s happening is:

There are two main realities in the film. There’s the Colter Dies reality and the Colter Lives reality. In the Colter Dies reality, Goodwin unplugs his life-support and they never know about the Colter Lives reality. He’s done his job and death is his final reward. In the Colter Lives reality, Colter sends Goodwin a text message after saving the train which reveals that there is a second Colter Stevens in the second reality. This Colter Stevens will eventually have to do the Source Code thing with a different crisis. Colter tells Goodwin to help him, meaning she will do what she can (once again) to give Colter a chance at a new life. And so begins a chain which begins with the Colter Lives reality in which there will be two Colter Stevens, one of whom in someone else’s body and knowing full well that there is the second vegetable Colter with his shit blown off in some life support box somewhere waiting for another mission. If the Colter being used for Source Code can solve the shit and if Goodwin helps him, he will always be able to jump to a new reality.

There needs to be an infographic for this. The movie basically leaves the smart people with full knowledge that Colter Stevens, at least the one we follow throughout the movie, has achieved a kind of quantum immortality for multiple doubled instantiations of himself. This is a way to live on past the death that put him in Source Code in the first place. Howdyoulikethat.

At one point does a Colter Stevens who doesn’t know about the others figure out that there must be those others? Or what if Goodwin just flat out fucking tells him.

And leaving me with questions like these, wonderful philosophical mindbenders, is why I loved this movie and why you should too.

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