Here is another one of those movies that really inspired me to commit to One Movie Each Day. Duncan Jones’s 2009 independent sci-fi masterpiece Moon was one of the most brilliant, thought-provoking, and creative films I’d seen in a long time, so I’ve been looking forward to his larger-budgeted follow-up, basically, since I first heard about it. In spite of that, I’d put off watching Source Code until today. I think maybe I was worried I might be let down. Well, finally having seen the film, I can definitely state that I was not let down. Source Code, is excellent. Compared to Moonit is faster-paced, and trades some introspection for some beautiful explosions, but I find it works equally well.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens an Army helicopter pilot serving in Afganistan who awakes to find himself on a Chicago commuter train sitting across from a woman, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who calls him Sean. Just as Colter is getting a handle on the situation, (including seeing someone else’s reflection when he looks in the mirror,) the train is engulfed in a massive explosion. Colter awakes again, this time strapped inside of a strange device, and being addressed, via video screen, by an Air Force officer, Vera Farmiga as Captain Goodwin, he doesn’t recognize. It is revealed that Colter is participating in a top-secret program that enables him to re-live the last eight minutes of the life of a sufficiently compatible recently-deceased person. In this case he has been inserted into the life of school teacher Sean Fentress, who was killed in a train bombing that morning. Colter’s mission is to continue re-living these eight minutes until he is able to identify the bomber so that the authorities will be able to thwart a threatened follow up bombing.
Gyllenhaal gets the lion’s share of the screen time in the film. The virtually the entire movie is told from Colter’s point of view, and there are only a couple scenes that he is not in. Fortunately, Gyllenhaal makes the most of the opportunity; he creates an excellent balance of strength and vulnerability. This film succeeds because Colter is both eminently relatable as a point-of-view character, and possessed with the type of strength and determination that makes him believable as the type of person with the intelligence, determination, and strength that would be required by the secret project at the center of the film.
I’ve seen some comparisons between this film and another one of my all-time favorites, Groundhog Day, and while there are certainly some similarities, (both films feature the protagonist re-living the same events again and again,) I really don’t think that it’s a fair comparison. If pushed to do so, I’d compare this film’s use of a time loop to that in Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect.” Although in a lot of ways it follows in the same spirit and tone as Moon. There’s also more than a little DNA from Quantum Leap in the film. This last part is neatly acknowledged through a voice-only appearance by Scott Bakula, (who even gets to drop a Sam Beckett trademark “Oh Boy”).
Influences aside, Source Code is really a unique, creative and completely entertaining film. Like Moon, it’s really fantastic high-concept science fiction, used as a method to tell a compelling personal story. The ending manages to be both simultaneously bittersweet, and Hollywood-happy, with an extra kick of awesome thrown in for good measure. This movie probably won’t be as enduring or thought-provoking as Moon was, but it is exciting and inspired story-telling. Source Code is a must see.