Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, but when he looks in the mirror he finds a different face from his own. He is on a train Chicago-bound and he meets a young woman Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who knows him but he doesn’t know her. There is an explosion and Gyllenhaal finds himself in a capsule talking to army officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Gyllenhaal will be sent to the train for 8 minutes many times until he finds the bomber and saves millions of Chicagoans from death by terror bombing, so we get a Groundhog Day revisiting of the train until he finds the bomber and stops him, but the bombing of the train will not be prevented. Colter Stevens is actually a dreadfully maimed soldier from Afghanistan service who gradually is aware that he is in a chamber and that his mind links up to events on the train, and that he can change the future. The outfit who runs this is called ‘Source Code’ run by Dr Rutledge (Jefffrey Wright). When Stevens is successful, Rutledge wants to use his mind to control the future but Colleen Goodwin shows mercy and removes his brain support after Stevens tried to save the people from the bomb on the train as well as from the later far more destructive bomb. In some Elysian parallel universe Stevens is romantically linked with Christina. They both admire Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ – a globular stainless steel mirror in Chicago.
This film is made by Duncan Jones who made Moon, so you could expect a concern with identity, memory and other matters epistemological. I wonder which philosophers influenced him, and which he wants to illustrate in his films, he is philosophically trained. Being on a train and the search for identity there on, you think of Hitchcock in which identities are switched, relationships formed, and crimes are committed. Christina is of course ultimately unreal in the game of consciousness played by Source Code.
Because this film avoids the embarrassment of characters cornily philosophising with each other as in The Matrix, the this film has escaped being accused of cod philosophy but one critic has mentioned Descsrtes and how this film illustrates his ideas. I don’t think so. If you want a parable illustrating the mind body dualism and its philosophical problems, then the White Knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass is the best fun to be had with this easily misunderstood topic.
Once again, at the technological frontier of experimentation, the American military is involved, as in Avatar. Gyllenhaal gets to show he is a sensitive guy at the end, as he realises his frail mortality through the Source Code experiment. It’s also a bit like James Stewart’s spiritual transformation in It’s a Wonderful Life. He gives a comedian money to entertain the doomed passengers on the train. Anyway it repeats Avatar‘s trick of having the hero thought-travel to affect outcomes in another malleable reality, and I think this is just a gimmick because it saves plot labour. You can switch from capsule to other reality and other reality to capsule. It induces a sort of hi-tech narcosis in which, because it’s all like a computer prank, then you don’t ultimately care what happens. It reminds me of those badly written sci-fi stories in which characters superfluously tell us that it’s ‘all in his head’.
The Ground Hog Day repetition of those eight minutes on the train are shown through various perspectives until Gyllenhaal knows exactly what’s coming and he can act with impunity in beating people up – after all, isn’t this the war against terror? Isn’t this in danger of being a fictionally sanctimonial analogy of the manipulative distancing of aerial bombing and it’s renunciation of immediate consequences because of the importance of the ultimate outcome? I get the feeling that this is just a slight Outer Limits story in pseudo-philosophical drag. Gyllenhaal develops an Olympian posture of hi-tech messianism, but it’s all done in a metal tank and it acquires the uninvolving unreality of hallucinatory game playing.
The film obviously reminds us of Powell and Pressburger’s Matter of Life and Death – indeed Gyllenhaal asks if he is dead, which is like those dreadfully superfluous comments on the action that I mentioned about bad sci-fi stories. The film gives the game away fairly early so that the suspense should be in seeing how he finds the terrorist, but since he’s got lots of time, then there is no real suspense, so we’re more interested in what he does about Christina. Well, they are romantically together under Cloud Gate. Source Code at the end, doesn’t seem to be aware of how he changed the future because the terrorist attack was foiled earlier. What? Come again. So it’s really a sci-fi Wonderful Life, isn’t it? Plot coherence and tension have been sacrificed to the morally satisfying ending where the rugged individual gets the better of corporate manipulation. The horrid military conspirators must have their acceptable face, and it comes in the form of Vera Farmiga whose glacial blue eyes compete for hypnotism with Michelle Monaghan’s. Some what overblown.