dir: Duncan Jones
Singer and national treasure Paul Kelly had the violent alcoholic’s lament If I Could Start Today Again, reincarnation-believers base their whole religious-spiritual existence on the allowance of do-overs, and computer game players long have known the joy of getting another chance (depending on how many lives you have left) to make things right.
They all come from the same source, they all appeal to the same part of us that wishes the universe could allow for multiple chances to get things right. If we could just have one more shot, if we could only have replayed some moment from our lives, and done something right, then everything else would have worked out right. If only…
Well, our universe doesn’t work like that, but our art does, so when a science fiction flick comes along based around that very idea, then we’re supposed to be throwing our hands up in hallelujahs at the chance to bask in the warming glow of wish fulfilment with Jake goddamn Gyllenhaal as our stand-in.
Are we fuck… Source Code does, as you might have guessed or heard, sound and play out like a less Buddhist and more sci-fi Groundhog Day, with a bit of the television series Quantum Leap thrown in for good measure. Although it is dependent on repetition, and a same set of 8 minutes is played out multiple times, it’s not really the multiple viewpoints kind of repetition that we’ve seen in some films lately (something like Vantage Point is what I’m thinking). No, through the magic of technology, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character gets to try to save a trainload of people, and then, the people of Chicago.
How? Well, through the quantum magic of the Source Code. I understood the individual words which the expositioners used to describe the maguffin, but there’s no goddamn way I will ever understand what any of it really means. I know what it means in terms of the flick, as in, they explained something, so now they can continue on with the plot. But it’s pretty unbelievable.
Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train. He is confused and very disagreeable, like most people who need coffee in the morning but can’t get to it for whatever reason. He finds that the person we (the audience) see is not the person other people see, in that it seems he is inhabiting someone else’s body.
Then the train blows up, and Colter comes to confused and perplexed in some kind of box, being badgered with orders by a female Air Force captain (Vera Fermiga).
Rinse, repeat. He keeps appearing on the train again, with some of the same things happening, at least initially (such as the conductor asking for his ticket, or a woman spilling coffee on his shoe). And each time he appears, the same woman is sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) talking as if they’re friends.
His mission is to figure out the details of the bombing. Which has already happened. Through magic science, they can transport Colter’s consciousness into an alternate reality bubble which is pretty much the past (though they keep telling Colter that’s not the case), and into the body of that same chap, in a vain attempt to find out who’s behind the bombing.
He tries lots and lots of different strategies to locate the bomb and the bomber, with very mixed success. But mostly he’s wondering how the heck he got into this situation, since he’s supposed to be flying helicopter sorties in Afghanistan.
So, along with trying to figure out who’s responsible for the bombing, and the bigger question of whether there’s some further bombing planned, Colter’s trying to figure out how he got where he is, and why.
The Air Force, being military-industrial types, are very unforthcoming with their information, and not big with the sympathy towards Colter, who they see as a tool in a big tool box, one to be used and abused as necessary. Colter’s main motivators involve figuring out how to most violently get the scenario wrong, how to somehow get a message to his dad to say he’s sorry about something, and to somehow save the girl on the train.
Competing agendas should make for compelling drama. Should but doesn’t.
It’s interesting enough, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t help but feel that the recursive nature drained the premise of any tension. In any given flick we generally assume the good guys win and the bad guys lose, but the path to the end needs to be bumpy enough or at least seeming to be in some doubt enough so that the journey to there doesn’t bore us. In this instance we kind of get the impression that it will repeat as long as it has to, with pretty much no dramatic tension along the way.
Again, I can’t really understand what they’re claiming happened here ultimately, because the reality is that none of it makes sense, couldn’t and can’t make sense, and it’s not because of a harsh imposition of Earth logic – it doesn’t work according to any logic, even the flick’s internal logic.
It hardly matters though. What matters is that there are a few questions of identity, of personhood, that creep in, though they’re not as central as they were in Moon, Duncan Jones’s last flick. There is a similar sensibility to some aspects of the use of science fiction to create scenarios to say something central about humanity that otherwise you couldn’t develop without the trappings of the genre, but they’re limited in how they impact upon the story.
I can’t really say I was that engaged by it. The film looks, sounds and plays out generically, and ironically reminded me of a flick called Déjà Vu, which didn’t have the same shattered-time rinse repeat premise, but ultimately had a lot of sound and fury signifying not very much in the end. But I didn’t hate it.
Vera Fermiga shows again what an excellent actor she is, mostly, from our perspective, talking to a screen, a webcam and someone whom she treats like another character, despite the complete lack of embodiment, so to speak. She’s really good in what was a really limited role.
Gyllenhaal mostly does okay, but he overacts abysmally when the situation (I guess) allows for it, but it ended up having the opposite effect of what I think was intended: It reminded me I was watching a construction, a complex puzzle box with not really very human parts to it. He was probably fine for the role, but it could probably have been played by anyone.
I shouldn’t sneer at something that’s essentially an action-thriller that is competently handled. I wasn’t really hoping for more, but at the very least I didn’t want to feel like I was watching Duncan Jones’s obligatory Hollywood contractual obligation instalment before he can go off and make the flicks he really wants to make with a decent budget. The one thing I will complement is the use of something called the Cloud Gate, which is a sculptural Chicago landmark, which plays an interesting role in the story, even (not to the flick’s detriment) during the unearned and meaningless happy ending.
On the other hand, you can just add it to the pile of generic action flicks you’ve watched and forgotten, sometimes not even requiring 8 minutes to forget all about them, of which thus far you’ve probably watched hundreds.
Think of what you could do if you could get all that time back, hey?
6 times I’d probably just waste those thousands of hours again anyway out of 10
“What would you do if you knew you only had one minute to live?” – I’d walk out on this flick, that’s for sure – Source Code.