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Source Code

Reviewed by Dario Llinares.

Director Duncan Jones
Length 93 mins
Certificate 12A / PG-13
Rating ******----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article Trailer.

Inception (2010) has got a lot to answer for. If Avatar (2009) was a game-changer that foretold a 3D cinematic future, the success of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending blockbuster has seemingly become the portentous blueprint for a new generation of ‘intelligent’ super-spectacles. Eschewing the adolescent, pseudo-pornographic violence of Michael Bay and his ilk, post-Inception films seek to engage such depths as existential crisis, the influence of technological encroachment on mind and body, and the possibility of alternate realities. Echoes of Inception are conspicuous in both George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and now in Source Code, the second feature from director Duncan Jones. Jones’ impressive debut Moon (2009), in which a cloned astronaut gradually discovers his ontological fragility, showed the potential emergence of an interesting new auteur. Although this new release also demonstrates the creativity and sci/fi cine-literacy evidenced in Moon, Source Code is more laboured in its intertextual referencing, aesthetic form and narrative construction.

Like Inception, Source Code constructs a bewilderingly intricate narrative which negates the possibly of concise summary. Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens suddenly on a Chicago-bound train. Completely unaware of how he got there, who his female companion is (Michelle Monahan), or most disconcertingly, the body he finds himself in (looking into a mirror he sees an unknown face staring back), Stevens is understandably disorientated. Before he can decipher any of the confusion a bomb suddenly explodes, destroying the train. He awakens once again, this time strapped into a dark, claustrophobic capsule. Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), reveals to him that he is being put into last 8 minutes’ memory - the 'Source Code' - of one of the victims of a terrorist attack. Stevens’ mission is to find information about the bomber in order to prevent future disasters. The film is from this point on constructed as a dual narrative, with Stevens being sent back to relive those 8 minutes over and over again - but also, from the confines of the capsule, attempting to discover the sinister truth behind his apparent ‘mission’.

On the plus side, Jake Gyllenhaal is eminently watchable, exuding a kind of wide- eyed desperation and, at times, enjoyment of the freedom bestowed on someone who can replay their final moments. The film is well paced and engaging as it shifts between alternate realities. The special effects, however, are a little rough. In Moon the visuals had a nostalgic charm, whereas here they simply lack gloss. There is ingenuity in the way the film shows Stevens attempt to identify the bomber, his judgements of passengers based on ethnicity, and how he plays with the prior knowledge he possesses.

Yet Source Code somehow manages to be simultaneously confusing and predictable. The science is very much fiction and, as the layering of different modes of reality unfolds, one’s suspension of disbelief is tested to the limits. The film thus has a similar flaw to Inception: when the narrative reaches an impasse a seemingly tangential direction is created as if out of nowhere. Also, the identity of the bomber is obvious from very early in the film, and I felt that the reveal of the link between the two distinct dimensions could be seen coming, at the same time as it made no sense.

Source Code also crams in it intertexual references in such a way as to become distracting. It is a postmodern Groundhog Day (1993) which also recalls The Matrix (1999), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Déjà Vu (2006), practically every film based on a Philip K. Dick novel, and Christopher Nolan’s entire oeuvre. In the end, Source Code is an entertaining but largely inconsequential exercise in sci-fi geekery, suggestive primarily of a transitional film from a director whose best is yet to come.

This review was published on April 11, 2011.

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