You would think a film that shows you exactly the same eight minute scene repeatedly for almost an hour and a half would be anything but exhilaratingly fast paced wouldn’t you? But that is exactly what Duncan Jones’ Source Code is.
Trapped inside a confused manifestation of his own mind, Captain Colter Stevens is dead: physically he cannot move, his legs have been blown off and his mangled body is lying helplessly in a sort of incubator, wired up to the Source Code program. But mentally his brain is still active, re-living the last precious minutes of someone else’s life. Unfortunately for Stevens, that person happens to be Sean Fentress and his death is anything but pleasant; he’s travelling on a doomed train destined to blow up half way to Chicago. After re-living the experience once, it soon becomes apparent that, although what Stevens is witnessing is merely a program, if he identifies the bomber and reports back to government agents in the present, he can be stop him before he blows up anyone else for real.
Sound confusing? It is… but that’s not the way the story unfolds; the narrative is paced quite well. In fact in the opening sequence hardly anything is given away. Every one of the eight minute Source Codes is rewarded with more information about Stevens and the mysterious Goodwin, who appears to be manipulating the entire program from behind the scenes.
What I loved most about Source Code was that from the outset it deals with dark themes. The real Stevens has been killed in Afghanistan but he’s trapped in some macabre limbo between life and death and, although when he finds the bomber there is some sense of catharsis, it is not enough for you to forget his seemingly inevitable fate: he must die or forever be trapped in someone else memories and never able to live longer than eight minutes. In complete antithesis (well at least for a recent high concept film anyway), the mise-en-scéne is bright, benevolent and essentially stunning, zooming into the train from extreme long shot, capturing the blues of the sky, lime green of the fields and radiant yellows of the sun while, aboard the train itself, the windows allow this rich tonality to fully illuminate the otherwise grey interior. In fact there is very little signposting at all: no gothic undertones or foreboding soundtrack (although the sound of metal doors clinging into place is enough to leave you on edge) even though Source Code is undoubtedly a dark film about terrorism and life after death. Jones appears to have realised that there’s no need for melodrama or ‘filmic hyperbole’ for the real beauty of Source Code is that it speaks for itself.
Of course, narratively, perhaps the ending was a little over-worked. There were several moments where the story reached a harsh but natural conclusion. In fact one moment in particular would have stayed true to what Jones’ appears to have been saying by this movie but then perhaps that’s just my cynical self. For “whatever it could have been”, however, there is no denying that the true ending was heart-warming.
Source Code is a refreshingly unique type of film that is comparable to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and it is worth going to see.