Never Say Never Say Never Again

The Source Code review

It’s one of those mornings when you just aren’t yourself. Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a train sitting across from a pretty girl who seems to know him well. A helicopter pilot on a tour of duty in Kandahar, this world – this “simulation?” – is alien to him, and as he looks around the exasperatingly normal surroundings, he finds everything disconcertingly real. Including the face in the mirror – which is not his own. We aren’t close to coming to grips with

BOOM

 

– Where am I? What is this?

– Captain, this is Sub-Editor Goodwin. You have only 80 words to write your Source Code review.

– But that’s insane. The concept itself…

– Eighty words, Captain.

Source Code, the new film by Duncan Jones, is an elegantly constructed sci-fi thriller, a whodunit hopped up on methamphetamines. Thrown straight into a deeply weird end, both audience and leading man Gyllenhaal enter the film clueless, and struggle to grasp the insane situation at hand. The result is oddly involving, a film where a bonafide mystery must be solved within an eight-minute loop, else everything goes kapow. Like rebooting a video game level and solving the same puzzle again

BOOM

– What, really? 80 words? But it’s such a wonderfully constructed film.

– Sorry, Captain. Orders are orders.

– But whose orders? Where am I? And listen, I like this film. Do you know how many films I watch in theatres and actually like, Goodwin?

– Buckle up, Captain.

 

One of the cleverest aspects of Source Code is how sharply the audience is made to identify with the leading man, going from clueless to seeking clues, hapless to heroic. The protagonist, convincing himself that it’s all a simulation – or some kind of training — like many of us, is astounded (like many of us) at the detailing. Before he explodes into the admittedly loopy high-concept reality that we’d roll our eyes at if the film weren’t as fantastically paced.

BOOM

– Come on! This really isn’t working, Goodwin. There’s too much to say.

– At least you finished your sentence this time.

– So I’m supposed to be happy about getting a full-stop in?

– I’m sorry, Captain. Good luck.

 

More Quantum Leap than quantum physics, Source Code is smart enough not to waste time on pointlessly explaining impossible movie mechanics. Instead, it straps us and its leading man to a time-bomb on a moving train, forcing us to hunt for hints and seek out signs, to identify a culprit and avert a further catastrophe. The pacing is excellent, helping the themes – displacement, aloofness, isolation, the search for soul – stay in focus while the clock keeps ticking. The cast is

BOOM

– Damn. I almost had it there.

– Let’s throw in the towel, Captain. That’s as close as you can get. We can end at ‘ticking.’

– But the cast? The characters! I have to talk about them.

– It’s fine, Captain. Your work here is done.

– Goodwin. Listen to me. Send me back in and then terminate this column.

– Goodwin?

 

A thriller isn’t made special by the twist. Source Code is a perfectly solid whodunit, sure, but it is so much more, because of its characters. Because of Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens, figuring out his own life by reliving eight minutes, like Groundhog Day with a gun. Because of the striking Vera Farmiga endowing an automaton part with heart. And because, as shown by the lovely Michelle Monaghan, life’s all about believing when a beautiful girl says everything’s going to be



okay.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, May 11, 2011

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