When decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up
in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he's part of a mission to
find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any
he's ever known, he learns he's part of a government experiment called
the 'Source Code,' a program that enables him to cross over into another
man's identity in the last eight minutes of his life.

Jones' runaway train explores the functions of the brain.

SXSW 2011: British director Duncan Jones has branched out for his second film: With three lead characters, Source Code puts him two ahead of his debut, the brain-bending sci-fi tour de force Moon, which features Sam Rockwell (and only Sam Rockwell) as a man adrift in outer space. Source Code opened SXSW with its world premiere, filling the nearly century-old Paramount Theatre, a movie palace in the old style, complete with balconies, ornate detailing, and 1,200 seats unequipped for the expanse that is the modern backside.

Written by Ben Ripley, Source Code operates in a world of computer bio-science that’s far enough away from our own to dazzle but close enough to be conceivable. Sort of. I confess I did not compute all of the lofty babble behind the film’s premise but it involves entering the brain space of the recently deceased through a 'source code" program and experiencing everything within the last eight minutes of their life as they experienced it. Let’s say it takes a special kind of brain to pilot these kinds of missions — no spoilers here — and that the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal has such a brain.

Certainly there are frontiers left to explore in bio-science, but the movies have everything just about covered, which means that Source Code is strongly reminiscent of a string of films across a spate of genres, including the repetitive time structure of Groundhog Day, Rashomon and Run Lola Run, the identity-seeking themes of the Bourne thrillers and the recent Salt, the sci-fi, the military skepticism of Avatar, and of course the save-the-world theatrics of almost every action film you can name, up to and including the recent Unstoppable.

Like Tony Scott’s hit, Source Code is set largely on a passenger-filled train threatened with destruction. In this film, however, the train crashes and everyone dies—we know that in the first eight minutes, when Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) awakens with a start and finds himself sitting across from a smirking brunette named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who keeps calling him 'Sean". The first time around, Colter, who insists he is a helicopter pilot deployed to Afghanistan, is unable to make sense of the situation, and is understandably dismayed when he looks in the mirror and sees another man’s face.

Information about his mission is parsed out on a need-to-know basis by Colter’s superior, Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Hers is the face he first sees when he is jolted from the events on the train just as it explodes. Alone and strapped into a dank capsule, Colter is debriefed about his experience, and what he was able to determine about the bomb that went off. Interplay between Colter’s memory and the shadow consciousness of his host seems like it might signal an engagement with the brain vs. mind debate around, and what it means to treat memory as data and patterns that can be programmed, rather than something more human. Source Code is less metaphysical than it thinks it is, however, and forsakes some of its larger themes to hammer home the lesser ones.

Colter is on this mission to determine the bomber’s identity and help prevent a second attack, which is said to be imminent. How the military has this information but is unable to identify the terrorist is one of several narrative loopholes one has to politely ignore to stay on board the ride. It’s more of a challenge than it should be to be swept away by Source Code: Colter 're-lives" those final eight minutes a number of times, seeking out suspects, running down leads, and falling in love with the pretty girl across from him, each stint ending in his fiery 'death". Eventually he begins doing detective work on his 'real" existence while ensconced in his 'fake" one—an intriguing twist that, like much of this movie, threatens to be more interesting than it actually 'is".

Related videos


1 hour 31 min
In Cinemas 05 May 2011,
Thu, 09/15/2011 - 11