Source Code is the second film from Duncan Jones. His first film was Moon, a small film with a small budget that had a big concept and a big cult following, and a film which I loved. So Source Code had a lot to live up to in my mind. After a smart, well acted, well directed film with beautiful practical special effects shots and good story in Moon it was always going to be a tough task for his second film to live up to it.
The film begins with big wide shots flying over Chicago, and the surrounding countryside as it zooms in to a train. When a man wakes up in his seat, confused. The woman across from him, Christina, is talking to him, they were obviously in a conversation but he doesn’t know what about. She calls him Shaun, but that’s not his name. He is Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot serving in Iraq, how did he get on this train and why does this woman think he’s Sean? He goes to the bathroom to try and clear his head and get his bearings, but when he looks in the mirror he doesn’t see himself. On leaving the bathroom the train explodes.
After the explosion he wakes up strapped to the wall in some sort of capsule. A video screen comes to life and a woman makes contact with him, Captain Goodwin, she tells him that earlier that day there was a terrorist attack on a commuter train just outside Chicago, and it was only the first in a series of attacks. It’s his job to identify the bomb and the bomber and give them information so they can find him before the second attack. She then sends him back to relive the same 8 minutes over again. Believing it to be a simulation he marvels at how real everything looks, but notices though it’s the same some of the details are slightly different, and he starts to try and find what he’s looking for.
After going through a couple of times he pushes for answers on what’s going on. He’s told there is a short term memory buffer in people’s minds where there is about 8 minutes of stored memories and when someone dies there is a slight electromagnetic field left that they can access, so in effect they can put you in to the last 8 minutes of someone’s life. They’re using quantum mechanics to access this and give them a chance to find who the bomber is before he strikes again, and he is their only chance of stopping them.
So that’s the set up, which you can pretty much pick up from the trailer. So again it’s a story where a strong concept drives the film. There are of course similarities to many other stories, with the repeating time loop, many TV shows from Stargate to The X-Files have done this kind of thing, not to mention Groundhog Day, though it’s not quite the same thing as any of those. There’s an interesting idea at the centre of it being that this is not time travel, you can’t change anything because it doesn’t effect reality. Though Colter does change many things they tell him it never actually does change, but he believes differently. Nothing he does matters unless it gets them the information they want, but he wants to save the people, can he do it or is it all in his mind?
It’s interesting that though this is a much bigger film than Moon it’s still a fairly small affair, 4 or 5 main cast and only 2 or 3 main sets for most of the film. Given that a good job is done of keeping it visually interesting. The acting ranges from OK to good, and no really bad performances. The central story seems to have confused some people though, I’ve heard complaints from a few people that it breaks its own rules set up for the source code, but that’s basically the whole idea behind the story if you can’t change things how come he changes it so much. The problem isn’t in the story the problem is the characters understanding of their own technology. I won’t say too much on this as I don’t want to spoil anything. But I thought it was very clever in its handling of this. If I get the chance to see it again I will be, and if you’re a fan of smarter sci-fi and not just the whizz bang ker-boom stuff I would recommend it.