Sunday, 15 May 2011

FILM REVIEW: Source Code

American Soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train in Chicago, miles away from Afghanistan, to discover that he is in the body of another man. He eventually learns from Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) that his reality is being simulated by a thing called "Source Code" and that he is living the last eight minutes of another mans life in order to figure out who planted a bomb on the train. At first it feels as though we are in a Groundhog Day or Run Lola Run-type scenario in which the protagonist must relive the same moment in order to move on within the same reality, however that’s not how the source code works.

It is difficult to talk specifically about what the source code does, without giving away spoilers. Besides, it makes for a weightier discussion after viewing if you have to debate about what actually happened. So those of you, who expected to read this and make sense of the source code, would have more luck in a philosophy or physics lecture than in reading this review; as the writer of Source Code, Ben Ripley has quite clearly given us a challenging ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style quest. A quest which leads you to the forever convoluted discussion of frozen memories versus parallel universes. Whichever way you consider the Source Code, I don’t believe that you could rule out the possibility of the multiverse perspective, which also explains the lack of a time travel paradox each time they reset the eight minutes and explains a particular moment which I cannot divulge without spoiling the twist.

The concept of a multiverse as explored in Source Code is also becoming easier to identify with in real life, as our own worlds become more and more hyper-real. That is, we are building reproductions and representations of reality in our everyday lives. Consider the replicas of fashion, retail products, architecture and lifestyle. You can go to a McDonalds in Sydney or Budapest and the ‘M’ symbol would remain the same and the food too, to a certain extent. This hyper-reality becomes such that we begin to question what a copy of what is. Are we creating other realities within our reality? Some theorists believe that it is possible we are actually currently living in a simulation of a simulation of a simulation (etcetera) but we could never know, because our information processes would then just be mere simulations.

Another theme that was quite obvious in Source Code was the means in which an agency can ethically take control over a body and a mind. This theme in particular was quite frightening and is addressed quite early in the film, but I wanted to see how this came to be within the societal context, up until the introduction of the source code. Which human rights bills were passed and why? This is really my only issue with Source Code, that it wasn’t nearly long enough to explore the depth of its subject matter. It felt more like it was a pilot episode of a new science fiction series in which the premise has been well and truly set, but open for exploration.

I also couldn’t warm to the love story as much as I would have liked to. Quite possibly due to a lack of character development of the female protagonist, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who for all intents and purposes was brilliant in this role, but didn’t get the chance to connect with Gyllenhaal as much as it was insinuated that they were falling in love. Their first few scenes together were full of chemistry and longing, and then as the action picked up, it kind of dampened somewhat, resulting in a few unclear moments. I guess this love story is open to interpretation as well, but it just wasn’t convincing enough to make me care. Sure I wanted Gyllenhaals character to thrive, as we are given hints about his life and relationships. If anything, the entire emotional subject manner was expressed through his character, forgetting everyone else. This wouldn’t have been a problem for me, except I couldn’t really understand why screen time was given to their characters connecting with each other, when it could have been spent dissecting the theory behind the source code.

Another issue that I had was with the marketing for the film, which placed emphasis on the action sequences, which are surprisingly limited in the film. This was especially confusing, because it seemed quite clear that director, Duncan Jones wanted us to focus on the captain's emotional and psychological processes, rather than just watch him blow stuff up. Duncan Jones made a similar choice with his first feature film, Moon, in which the protagonist only leaves the space ship once or twice, and without unnecessary blasts and explosions as filler. We were held to our chairs instead by the intrigue and mystery of Moon, that seemed to unfold beautifully as the plot progressed.

Moon was just that bit more successful than Source Code in pulling me into the story. In part I believe this was because of the lighthearted humour of the lead character and the fact that it took its time. Source Code also feels like a studio film, unlike Moon. From the tight ninety minute running time, to the unnecessary romance, it is quite obvious that there was more consideration for mass audience reception than required. I would have been happier for another half an hour to explore the characters and the principles of the source code technology. Instead the technology is introduced to us quite swiftly and leaves gaps in the story; gaps that I am sure were not in Ben Ripleys original draft, but decisions that had to be made in order to get picked up by a studio.

All things considered, Source Code certainly is a mind bending science fiction thrill ride that makes you question reality and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps when Duncan Jones is finished plotting to make the rumoured Blade Runner-inspired flick, Mute, then he can get to work with Ben Ripley on the rest of a Source Code series, because I for one am hooked. Source Code is an intelligent film that plays as 12 Monkeys meets Groundhog Day and Phone Booth, mixed with a mild dose of postmodern philosophy and science.

This review originally appeared in Machete Girl Magazine - Issue 4, "Crash and Burn", pp 15-16.

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