Reviews

'Source Code' Recalls 'Blade Runner'

Colter, like Deckard before him, has to accept who and where he is, even as these definitions recede before him.


Source Code

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-01 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-01 (General release)
Website
Trailer
Blade Runner is the be-all and end-all for me in science fiction.

-- Duncan Jones

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

-- Roy Batty

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes on a commuter train to Chicago. Unsure where he is, he turns to the girl in the seat across from him, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who calls him "Sean." He insists on his own name, becomes increasingly anxious, doesn't appreciate her joking ("You okay there, 'Captain?'"). He makes his way to the bathroom, where a glimpse in the mirror reveals that he's not himself, literally. Even when his wallet ID confirms he's this guy Sean, a teacher, Colter resists. "I don't know who Sean is and I don’t know who you are," he tells Christina. She assures him, "Everything's gonna be okay." She's right and she's not right.

The train explodes a moment later.

As Colter soon learns in Source Code, he is, in fact, Colter. But he's not exactly on this train and he doesn't know Christina. He's an Air Force pilot, on an experimental military mission that involves time travel and his insertion into someone else's body. His handler, Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), appears to him on a monitor, as he's strapped into a capsule, the dark and gritty kind, not sleek and shiny. Where he's landed, or is about to land, is unknown. Goodwin tries to get him focused, explaining that he's on a train bearing a terrorist's bomb, and it's up to him to discover the bomber's identity. He has eight minutes -- again and again, until he gets it done.

While the time travel details of Ben Ripley's script are convenient, the tension it establishes is compelling, mostly because it's premised on Colter facing himself, repeatedly, and in various situations. In this, the film isn't so unlike the idea that made director Duncan Jones' first film, Moon, so terrific. Where that movie had an astronaut-grunt played by Sam Rockwell realizing his own always-already existential loneliness, the new one puts Colter into what seems a caffeinated version of same. That's not to say that Colter is only alone, but rather, that he comes to appreciate what that means and how he might help someone else not to be.

This means that Colter, like Deckard before him, has to accept who and where he is, even as these definitions recede before him. The motion of the speeding train helps to make this situation seem pressing, as does the Groundhog Day-like repetition of events. The conductor comes to collect his ticket, a passenger spills coffee on his shoe, another passenger drops a wallet, and yet another uses a cell phone. It's not clear which event is important or if any is, though Colter is instructed that this bomber has something to do with a bigger, slightly later explosion in the city. It's too late, he's told, to stop the explosion on the train, but he can stop the next attack.

As Colter develops something like a relationship with Goodwin, he grows frustrated at her insistence on the one task, and demands to be debriefed. When he sees the man in charge, the "source code"'s inventor, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), Colter intuits that he must expand his mission parameters. The researcher has a crutch and a lab coat and a muttery affect, exactly the signs that he's lost sight of human dimensions. Sitting across from Christina again and again, these are exactly what Colter sees ("You're real," he says, an observation she actually appreciates). And so he proceeds through his steps, figuring how to get around what he's supposed to be doing in order to do the right thing.

The more Colter's managers resist his going off-task, the more he's justified in doing so, at least in the movie's moral universe. While Rutledge is stereotypically depraved, Goodwin serves as a slightly more complicated foil. “The source code is a gift," she says early on, "Don’t squander it by thinking.” That's enough to get his wheels turning, of course, and soon he's embodying the film's contemplation of the military's functions in a world where civilians remain safely clueless and soldiers follow orders.

While Colter comes from a military family and believes in his service -- last thing he remembers, he was flying sorties in Afghanistan -- the film submits that thinking is something of a gift in itself. Colter's self-reckoning takes a mostly conventional structure, wherein he finds that careless superiors exploit unconscious grunts (see also: Alien, Jacob's Ladder, The Jacket), his outrage righteous and poignant. It helps that he's on a speeding train of a movie, one that assumes you know most of this anyway.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image