Thoughts on Source Code

One of the most recent releases in this unexpected spring bonanza of science fictional movies is Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (who I was not fond of in the Prince of Persia movie) and directed by Duncan Jones (whose directing I enjoyed in Moon).  I am happy to report that Jones has maintained his streak of good movies, and Gyllenhaal has earned forgiveness for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Source Code is a good movie.  It’s a hard one to talk about in a spoiler-free way, but I’ll try—any spoileriffic comments will go at the end behind a cut.  I can comfortably say that that I liked it more than The Adjustment Bureau or Limitless, and I liked both of those movies.

Source Code is tightly plotted and very well-paced.  I never got bored, I never wanted things to hurry up, and I wasn’t able to predict what was going to happen.  In a few cases, I was able to realize some things before the characters did—but not by much.  Frankly, it just made me feel smugly clever.  I think the casting was solid, too—everyone played well together (and apart, for that matter), and I found them all believable.

While the “science” part of this science fiction movie is more than a little hand-wavy, it still came across as plausible in that it worked in the context of the movie, and that’s all that I can really ask.  It even made some nods toward exploring some of the depths inherent in the idea, though that is not the focus of the movie, and yet it still managed to raise interesting questions.  So all in all, this is one of those rare films where I really found nothing worth complaining or criticizing.

Consequently, I would highly recommend Source Code.

Now, on to some spoilery stuff!  Do not read any further if you don’t want spoilers.

The premise of the movie seems to be that a guy (Gyllenhaal) is being sent back in time to relive the same 8 minutes in order to learn who committed on terrorist attack in order to stop the next one.  It quickly turns out that this isn’t quite the truth—rather, he is being projected into the consciousness of a man who died on that train, reliving the end of his life in some sort of “quantum echo” technobabble.

It also turns out that Gyllenhaal’s character is, himself, dead.  He is essentially a preserved brain in a box, that shares a lot of similarities with the dead man.  And he has to work through the consequences of his own death even as he tries to find the terrorist and then a happy ending for himself.

And, for once, the happy ending was unexpected, in that we expected him to get his final death, and instead he survives in what we can only assume was a parallel quantum universe.  Of course, he survives in the body of the guy he was projected in to, and so we need to wonder what happened to that dude’s mind?  In every other universe, the guy died in the bombing; in the happy ending universe, I guess he may still be dead, too.

But those unanswered questions are a feature, not a bug.  The movie isn’t about answering those questions; if anything, it’s a little bit about how little we can actually know about what we do.  The unanswered questions may be raised by the story, but they aren’t pertinent to it.  The plot arc is fully satisfying, and that is more than enough to make this a good movie.