I just came across Duncan Jones’s Source Code at the library, and since I liked Moon, I decided to check it out despite some lukewarm reviews I’ve heard (besides, it’s free — yay, libraries!). I thought it was a fairly good movie. I liked it right off the bat for two things — one, it had an impressive score by a composer I’ve never heard of, Chris Bacon (whose most notable composer credit other than this, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the infamous rejected Wonder Woman pilot from earlier this year), and two, it actually had a proper main title sequence with honest-to-gosh credits at the start of the film! That’s become so rare these days, it’s refreshing to see. It’s definitely the way I prefer it. I don’t like having to wait until the end to find out who was involved in a film. Anyway, the main titles and Bacon’s theme (which evoked Herrmann’s North by Northwest and some of Goldsmith’s work) gave it a nice classic suspense-film feel right off the bat, and I liked the bright, vivid cinematography.
I had mixed reactions to the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal was okay as the lead, Stevens, and he had some quirky reactions now and then that were pretty appealing, but he was just slightly off in a way I can’t pin down. He wasn’t bad, but someone else could’ve probably done better. Michelle Monaghan was perfect and sweet and glowing as Christina, which is what the film asked of her; it might’ve been nice if her character had been less idealized, but she filled the role well. Vera Farmiga was also effective as Goodwin, a good mix of professionalism, doubt, and sympathy. I wasn’t crazy about Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Rutledge, the head of the source code project. I know the character was supposed to be unsympathetic (even though he was trying to save lives and was arguably more in the right about Stevens’s final disposition than Stevens himself and Goodwin were), but an actor can play a jerk yet still be more engaging to watch and listen to than this. (And it bothered me that the unsympathetic character was given a physical handicap. That’s an unfortunate stereotype that movies really should’ve grown beyond by now.)
The way the story was unfolded was quite engaging — we and Stevens are thrown into the situation without understanding what’s going on, and the mysteries are gradually explained as the film progresses, with some really unexpected twists, some of which I was fortunately unspoiled on. Of course, when we finally got an explanation of what the “source code” was and how Stevens was being enabled to relive the last eight minutes before a train bombing over and over again, it was complete gibberish; but that just puts the film more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction, and that isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. A lot of classic Twilight Zone episodes were built around similarly fanciful “science.” If anything, I’m reminded of Quantum Leap, which was evidently an inspiration for this film (given the premise of jumping into someone else’s body in the past, and given that Stevens’s father, when we finally hear him over the phone, is played by Scott Bakula). Here, as in that show, the technology that enables the time-jumping is hocus-pocus and the name of it has no real applicability to the thing it’s being used for. (Although I guess the idea is that what the memory-reading system does is analogous to reading the source code of a software system — they’re reading the “source code” of a brain and reconstructing its memories from that.) But the science isn’t the point; it’s just a plot device.
And that’s key to accepting the final twist in the film (spoilers), which is that the “source code” technology is more powerful than its creators realized; what they thought was just using some quirk of quantum information theory (I’m extrapolating) to somehow tap into and reconstruct the short-term memory of a recently-deceased brain was, in fact, allowing Stevens’s mind to connect with the past of alternate timelines, actually to “leap” into the Sean Fentress of those timelines and affect their events. Looked at that way, the ending kind of makes sense; Stevens couldn’t alter the past of his own timeline, couldn’t undo the disaster, but he was able to branch off a new one where he could prevent the disaster. And once he didn’t have his own body to return to, he was able to remain there. I recall criticisms that the ending contradicted what the film had previously established, and that’s a fatal flaw in a story. But what makes this ending acceptable is that it only contradicts what the scientists employing this technology believed about how it worked. Throughout the film, Stevens is fighting against that belief, trying to prove that his experiences have a greater reality than Rutledge and Goodwin think they do. And there’s certainly evidence that they do; the very fact that he’s able to change things suggests he’s not just reliving memories, and when characters on the train are able to access Internet data that Sean couldn’t possibly have in his short-term memory, that pretty much proves he occupies a reality beyond just those reconstructed memories. Rutledge and Goodwin can’t know that because they’re not “inside the source code” like he is, so they don’t realize what it is they’ve actually tapped into. That’s a fanciful premise, but it’s a self-consistent one, so it’s okay.
Still, I wouldn’t have minded some more exposition about how this was supposed to work. How did Rutledge’s people tap into a dead man’s memories? Did they have Sean’s brain there with them at Nellis AFB? The film gave more of an impression that their technology was somehow reaching into the aether to retrieve the “afterglow” of Sean’s mind, which is a lot harder to suspend disbelief about.
Also, the identity of the bomber was ridiculously easy to figure out. As soon as the second run-through, there was a clear suspect, since (spoilers again) the film twice showed us the “you dropped your wallet” bit to call attention to the guy who got off the train. It was a bit too telegraphed. And really, Stevens should’ve been focusing all along on people who got off.
One thing puzzles me. I could swear I’ve seen a story like this before, where the hero has to jump back into the same event over and over and figure out how it happened, but he (she?) jumped into a different person each time. In fact, until I watched this movie, I thought that was what happened in it. So what story am I thinking of?