(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Army Capt. Colter Stevens must relive the same eight minutes over and over to find and stop a terrorist bomber intent on destroying Chicago. From director Duncan Jones who wrote and directed MOON comes a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that keeps the viewer too busy to realize where the ideas just do not work. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Spoiler Warning: there is a discussion of the ideas of the film following the main body of this review.

SOURCE CODE is a movie that works like a video game. Army Capt. Colter Stevens (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) must live the same eight minutes over and over until he gets it just right. Getting it right in this case is averting a terrorist bomb attack. Coulter has awoken groggy on a train into Chicago and a complete stranger Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) is calling him Sean. Now Coulter should know who he is, but with a look in a mirror he discovers he is in the body that this Sean used to inhabit. The last thing he remembers before falling asleep was that he was serving as an Army pilot in Afghanistan and got into trouble. One would think that he was safer on a train to Chicago. Then just minutes later the train explodes and everybody, including Colter/Sean is dead. The latter wakes up in an ugly grunge-tech chamber. A television monitor in the chamber shows him Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga of NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH and UP IN THE AIR), who is telling him he has to go back and re-live that eight minutes while he searches for the bomb and the bomber. He also wants to find out why and how he has been chosen for this mission and how can he set up long-term relationship with a woman who is already dead and whose shadow he can see only in eight-minute snatches.

Apparently the government has a new technology that allows the user to go back in time and visit the "shadow" of an event that has already happened and to interact with people and objects. Shadow people see him as just one of them and can talk to him and touch him. If he can find the bomb he may even be able to disable it. The high concept of this film seems to be "GROUNDHOG DAY with explosions."

Presenting this story also involved having to solve some representation problems most directors never have to think about which perhaps delve into the metaphysics of film image. We need to see on the screen that Colter is in Sean Fentress's body. So when we see Colter he looks (a lot!) like Jake Gyllenhaal but in his reflection in a mirror we see another actor Frederick De Grandpre. To a viewer why should Colter look any different in a mirror than he does looking directly at him. Apparently when we see Colter we see him as he sees himself, or rather how he thinks of himself, but seeing his reflection in a mirror we see him as others see him. I think that the TV series Quantum Leap may have set a precedent here, but it is not one that makes any sense at all. Speaking of things that make no sense at all there is the title of this film. What is "source code?" It is text written in a computer language like C++ or Algol that will be converted to the binary language that a computer can execute. It is text written in an intermediate between human language and computer language. In the film it is a device that sends a (particular kind of) person back in time to mingle with the shadows of the past. That has nothing to do with programming languages. There is no source code in SOURCE CODE. The title is no more or less appropriate a title than would be MANHOLE COVER.

In the end this film is just a lot of silly fun. There is nothing wrong with that unless the film aspires to be a more profound piece of science fiction. A film like the current LIMITLESS may not be as much fun, but it has thought out the consequences of the development of an intelligence-raising drug. I hesitate to say the science of SOURCE CODE is impossible, but it is a whole lot less credible that that of some science fiction films. Some science fiction films are for turning your mind off and some for turning your mind on. SOURCE CODE falls into the former category. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.


In PLANET OF THE APES it is understandable that the apes speak English, but it is absurd that until the end of the film Taylor never asks himself how is it possible that the apes from another planet would know English. Similarly it is not clear why Rutledge should think it is possible to interact with things that are just echoes of the past. Without knowing that parallel universes are involved the whole idea of changing the images of the past does not seem possible. There is no reason to believe that Colter can alter and interact with the echo of what has already happened. That would be like crawling into a film canister of KING KONG and successfully convincing Carl Denham to leave Kong on his island. Not to mix my metaphors but the moving finger has already written and moved on if the worlds visited are just shadows of the past.

In SOURCE CODE the ideas simply do not bear scrutiny or are glossed over. Toward the end of the film Colter learns Source Code is actually generating the parallel universes. And that makes it a little more possible. But it raises more questions. Will Colter forever inhabit the body of another man? And does Sean have to die for him to do that? Colter was only saved in one universe. Aren't there a large number of parallel universes created and in which the train still exploded, Colter died, Sean died, and in most Chicago was destroyed? For that matter I don't remember Coulter disabling the bomb even when he knew how to do it in the "comedian performance" universe. It is not unusual to have a science fiction film that requires the viewer to turn off his mind. But this film has a lot more than most for him to turn his mind off of.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper