Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Source Code

Film #381


An action thriller centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

Year 2, Film #16

THE REVIEW: Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) poses the following question in the film: “What would you do if you knew you only had a minute left to live?” That question is interesting for many reasons, in general, and with regards to the film and its characters. And the same way I would describe that question is exactly how I would describe Source Code: interesting. Directed by Duncan Jones (who also directed the terrific Moon), Source Code is a thought-provoking and engaging film that has many rules and restrictions set in place. And as it often seems with films like this (Panic Room, The Apartment, and The Adjustment Bureau to cite recent examples) the restrictions, and more importantly how they’re broken, lead to original and out-of-the-box ideas.

When I say out-of-the-box, I mean out-of-the-box. Ideas involving time travel and transferring consciousness to other life-forms using highly advanced methods like quantum physics and parabolic calculus aren’t new – The Adjustment Bureau which I cited above has some similarities in the basic ideas. But Source Code arranges the ideas in new and interesting ways that make for a premise that has a lot of potential. Here’s the rundown: Capt. Stevens links up with Sean Fentress who was a passenger on a train headed for Chicago. The train exploded, killing everyone on board, and through this special project called “Source Code”, Stevens is able to access Fentress’ short-term memory and still-active brain after death to relive the last eight minutes leading up to the explosion in order to find the bomber and prevent the next in a series of attacks. As the film progresses, you not only learn more about the people and what went on in the train those last eight minutes, but you also learn more about “Source Code”, how it works, and what its limitations are. Regardless of what Stevens finds, this “memory” cannot be altered; only the future can be altered. Only the last eight minutes can be access; that’s the limitation of the short-term memory.

That’s the basic structure of the film and how it operates. It seems simple and not too original, but the real allure to Source Code are the little parts that make it unique. It’s a mystery that Capt. Stevens is trying to solve, but one that you are also trying to solve as well. Everything you see is through Steven’s eyes (not literally like in Cloverfield, but in a narrator-like sense) so every minor sound like a zipper zipping, or little action like a person taking a sip of a drink becomes the center of attention. You also crave for information just like Stevens. Slowly, as Stevens (and you) gain information, you reaction goes from “What’s going on, where am I?” to “What am I missing?” And it’s all the more exhilarating because you know that lives are at stake. You can re-experience these eight minutes as many times as you want, but in reality, time moves forward as per usual. 

Source Code is the opportunity to go back and try countless variations of a solution to a problem until you find the right one. And just like problem solving, there’s that moment of realization when everything suddenly makes sense. Whether it’s struggling to figure out a geometric proof or discover the bomber’s identity, there’s a path of exploration and excitement. In this case, everything might not make sense – correction: everything won’t make sense – but there is enough structure and coherent information to let your imagination go wild. Roger Ebert said of the film, “you forgive the preposterous because it takes you to the perplexing.” I would amend that the perplexing then takes you to some amazing places of absolute clarity, but bewildering actions. Duncan Jones is a big two for two in my book, and I’m waiting in utter anticipation for his third film.

THE RATING: 5 out of 5