Source Code is the second feature from director Duncan Jones (aka, David Bowie’s son), whose first film was the fantastic Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. Now, with this one, Jones has another awesome sci-fi movie under his belt. You know, there are a lot of directors out there who are just horror directors, or just comedy directors, or just action directors – but there aren’t a lot of guys who are just sci-fi directors. Maybe Jones can fit that niche, and become THE sci-fi director of the modern era. After seeing these two movies, I definitely think he’s a prime candidate.

What I liked about both Moon and Source Code is that they are both attempts to bring intelligence back to science-fiction. I’m not saying Jones is the only guy doing this, mind you. Movies like District 9 or Primer prove that there is still intelligent life in the genre. But still, it’s nice to see two films in a row from a guy that forgo the more easy action trappings of the genre, and instead concentrate on philosophical ideas and concepts that can actually provoke debate.

For instance, after seeing this film, my friends and I literally spent almost an hour debating whether the titular “source code” even made sense as a concept. In my opinion, it certainly DOESN’T if you try to accept it on the terms that it is explained by its creator, Jeffrey Wright. According to him, Gyllenhaal’s character is somehow linked to the last eight minutes of memory of a passenger killed in a terrorist bombing on a train earlier in the day, and must keep re-living those eight minutes until he somehow discovers which passenger was responsible. Wright continually insists that is NOT time travel, and that Gyllenhaal can not actually alter reality while within the source code. But we repeatedly see Gyllenhaal discover and experience things that the person whose memory he is inside could have NEVER known about. How does that work? The movie wisely never quite gets into the logic behind it all, but this does make Wright’s character come across kind of stupid – if he really believed it worked like he says it does, then it would actually be incredibly ineffective and pointless. The movie, of course, suggests there is actually a lot more to the “reality” of the source code than anyone but Gyllenhaal wants to believe, but again, how dumb does it seem that the creator himself is unaware of this.

There was another thing bothering me about Source Code after seeing it, but at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was just one of those things nagging at the back of my head, trying to get out. And then, finally, it came to me. Just a warning, we’re heading into heavy SPOILER territory now, so skip the next paragraph unless you’ve seen the movie (unless you never plan on seeing the movie – but then, why would you care to read this anyway?).

So, the “reality” that Capt. Colter Stevens ends up living in at the end of the movie seems pretty ideal, right? He has saved everyone on the train, caught the bad guy, and is now involved with Michelle Monaghan’s character. Not too shabby for a technically dead guy. But, here’s the thing – although he “saved” everyone, there is actually one person he sort of killed. And that’s Sean Fentress, the man whose identity he has been assuming. He took over his body in the source code, but when he is allowed to stay in there and live beyond the eight alloted minutes, well, he never gives it back. In this version of reality, Fentress should be the one who gets off that train alive, and goes on a date with Monaghan. But instead it is Stevens who gets all this. And Fentress? I dunno, I guess his identity (or soul, depending on how you look at it) is just obliterated out of reality. Sucks for him. I’ve been trying not to let this change the way I look at the end of the movie, but it’s tough. I feel bad for Fentress. Anyone else?

Oh well, whatever – although this is one those things that CAN hurt your head if you try to think of it too long (like the time travel in Terminator), it’s also something that you can just accept on faith and still enjoy the movie (again, like the time travel in Terminator). And I did enjoy the movie. If I have any other small complaint it’s that sometimes the “eight minutes” seem a lot more like fifteen or twenty minutes – but hey, I’ve watched enough 24 in my day to be used to time cheating. This is a fun and exciting movie, with good performances from all of the lead actors. I wouldn’t rank it quite as high as Moon, but it’s still a nice indication that Jones can keep his thought-provoking science-fiction sensibilities alive even in a more Hollywood-ish action piece. Hey, just a thought – has anyone thought about asking him whether he’d be interesting in picking up the Dune movie?

This review was originally posted on April 5th, 2011, at Trevor Likes Movies.

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