Source Code is a wonderfully odd and intriguing science fiction thriller. It is one of those movies that begins with no information and then builds a rotating mystery piece by piece. It contains a lot of twists and turns, a lot of detail and we are with it every step of the way.The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, an Army Helicopter Pilot who has done his time in Iraq. As the movie opens, he is on a crowded commuter train headed into Chicago, sitting across from a woman he doesn’t know. Her name is Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), she apparently knows him very well and keeps calling him Sean. Investigating his surroundings, he looks in a mirror and sees a different man staring back at him. What is going on here? Who is the man in the mirror? That’s only the beginning of a long series of questions an unraveling mystery.
Here, I should tell you, I am going to have to give away some spoilers,so if you want to go into the movie cold, stop reading now.
The train that Stevens is riding on is rigged with bomb that will explode in 8 minutes. The bomb does explode and Stevens wakes up inside a capsule at a government laboratory, in his own body, speaking to an Air Force Captain named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) on a tiny screen. It seems that he is part of an experiment, and his mission is to go back onto the train – in the mind and body of this man Sean – and discover the source of the bomb. The time between his arrival and the detonation is only 8 minutes each time and each time he must start over from the same point in time. He is the only passenger on the train who is aware of this.
The bomb keeps exploding at the end of eight minutes so over and over, Colter’s mind is sent back onto the doomed train to find the source. Sometimes he finds a new piece of information, sometimes he uncovers a lead that turns to nothing. What is amazing about the movie is that it keeps up the intrigue of Stevens’ mission and opens up to reveal more and more about the mystery of both the train and the experiment. This is a very clever movie that is entertaining even when you’re not 100% sure you understand what is going on. What is fun is seeing Gyllenhaal going back over and over again to that train with new information (even though for the rest of the people on the train it is still the same timeline) and trying piece by piece to stop the train from exploding.
There is a lot of technical talk in Source Code, a lot of conversation about the experiment that is being conducted. I’m not sure I could pass a test on it. It sounded somewhat logical and I’m sure on a second viewing I will understand it even more. What works is that this clockwork plot is never dull or predictable. It is a smart movie, cleverly written.
The movie was directed by Duncan Jones, who made the overlooked Moon three years ago with Sam Rockwell as a lonely man on a lunar base who discovers some disturbing facts about his mission. Jones makes science fiction thrillers that are brainy, not padded with gunshots and noise. His scripts are well thought out, even if a little preposterous. I’m not sure he has perfected writing his endings though. In the case of both Moon and Source Code, they both seem to end on a note that’s a little less ironic then we might be comfortable with. Still, this is a very good science fiction thriller.