One of the fundamental constructs of science fiction is to allow the audience to experience events, circumstances and locations far beyond anything reality can offer. It can take you to the furthest depths of the universe or what it is like to have superhuman abilities. One of the favorite themes for a Sci-Fi story it time travel. The unidirectional natural of time is a universal perception trapping all humanity in the same rushing river of time unalterable in its flow from past through present on to the future. The most obvious use of a time travel motif is to take a peek into the future or explore the events in the past. There is always a paradox in traveling into the past; changing events that ripple through the time quantum time line altering the present. While many stories utilizing this plot device go to get lengths to minimize or explain away such conundrums others weave the ability to alter events into the fabric of the story. Handled correctly this can make for a thought provoking movie that will entertain as well as challenge your conceptualization of reality. Since such an achievement requires exceptional talent on both sides of the camera films of this quality are rare.
The good news is some movies manage to rise to the challenge; one example is the recent film ‘Source Code’. This movie accomplishes something that is quite exceptional in today’s climate of homogenized flicks barely distinguishable from each other. ‘Source Code’ uses the time travel as the foundation for telling a character driven story instead of the more typical methodology of depending entirely on a gimmick. This not only gives greater latitude to the writer for character development but also allows the director to focus on the humanity infused in those characters by the actors portraying them. This movie provides an action packed experience that will keep the adrenaline pumping but never at the expense of relating a fascinating story. usually action oriented science fiction are light in the area of coherent story telling replacing the sizzle of special effects for the substance of a real story. Here cutting edge CGI is used as it should be; a means to tell the story not a substitute for one.
The film begins by challenging one of the fundamental constants in a healthy self image; knowing who we are. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a train uncertain of his own identity. Confusing matter significantly is the woman sitting next to him, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). She appears to know him but not as himself but as someone called Sean Fentress. A few minutes later the train is rocked by an explosion. Colter regains awareness contained by a strange geodesic dome in a laboratory. As he focuses on a computer screen Air Force Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) explains he is a highly decorated combat helicopter pilot on a mission to uncover and hopefully prevent a bomb located on a train headed towards Chicago. This is news to him; the last he remembers is being in Afghanistan. Now he is working for a project called ‘The Source Code’. It permits a subject to relive the last eight minutes of someone’s life. In a section of exposition for both Colter and the audience it is explained by Source Code's creator, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) that he actually went back in time to relive that person’s last eight minutes of life in a sort of alternate reality. Suitable quantum mechanics sounding jargon is employed to sell the premise but as mentioned the film is not about the mechanics of the procedure but concentrates on the psychological effects on the subject. His mission is superficially simple, assume the identity of Fentress, find the bomb and terrorist and prevent the catastrophe. If he fails the repercussion extend far beyond the deaths in the train; the explosion will detonate a nuclear dirty bomb killing millions. Following iterations of his return to the train provides a precious few new clues but he also finds himself developing feelings towards Christina. In accordance to Quantum theory the act of observing alters reality so every trip is slightly compounding Colter’s disorientation. Throughout it all Coulter begins to piece together fragments of his own life and discovers he needs to save Christina.
Many actors have to reinvent themselves in the course of their careers but few have pulled off such a complete transformation as accomplished by Jake Gyllenhaal. He has moved up the acting ladder from puerile faire like ‘Bubble Boy’ to such respected films as ‘Broke back Mountain’. Not only has he established himself as a seriously talented dramatic actor but he has buffed himself up to a six pack toting action hero. As it turns out this is the precise combination of abilities necessary to make this film work. It has the satisfying punch of an action movie without compromising and an exceptionally well crafted psychological thriller. Screenwriter Ben Ripley has put his mark on the industry after writing lackluster scripts for two flicks in the regrettable ‘Species’ franchise. This screenplay is carefully built from the ground up exhibiting imagination and a control of the genre that is wonderfully measured out weaving a solid story. Taking up the challenge of putting the story to film is new to the scene director Duncan Jones. His previous film ‘Moon’ was a British Indy that took the astronaut archetype into a completely novel road. In this film he shows an innate ability to pace a complicated situation in such a way that it never loses you attention. Alternating action with emotionally texture scenes makes this movie something so different that it deserves the attention it as garnered. Finally there is a filmmaker who fully appreciates the mature potential of science fiction not so much as a standalone genre but where its true potential lies, as a format to relate a fully developed, emotionally driven story.