Science Fiction as a genre regularly calls into question various thoughts and philosophies on mankind and our existence/place in the universe. 2001: A Space Odyssey called into question the relationship between violence and evolution, Blade Runner looks at the essence of life and identity itself and Alien is a superb allegory about the fears of sex and STIs (the constant imagery of penetration and egg laying resulting in death).
"It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?"
-as in that popular song by The Killers
So where does Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones - who directed the wonderful and stupidly low budget British sci-fi flick Moon - fit into the delicious space pie that is Science Fiction? The answer is, it doesn’t. The reason: it is an action thriller with a sci-fi backdrop, very much in line with films like Battle: Los Angeles (I swear to God they must have thought that making it really loud all the time would distract from the fact it’s just a 2 hour advert for the US Marines). What I mean is that the film adheres to the rules of the action thriller, but has various sci-fi elements to it, lacking that real interrogation of human nature. Example: Battle: Los Angeles is an action/war film, except with aliens instead of people.
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a soldier trapped in another man’s body (a man by the name of Steven Fentress), forced to re-live the last 8 minutes of that man’s life leading up to a bomb exploding on a train. This is made possible by what is called the Source Code - a secret military program. He does this because the bomber of the train has threatened another attack on the city of Chicago and the authorities need to identify him before he can carry out this plan. Each time Colter fails to identify the bomber and the bomb goes off, he is thrown back into reality before being thrown back to the beginning of the 8 minutes again.
A sort of Groundhog Day scenario.
I'm sorry Bill, magic rodents just don't cut it anymore...
This kind of premise is definitely the sort of direction you would expect Duncan Jones to go in, and he has done very well with the script he has been given. You can definitely see the flair of intrigue and examination that made Moon such a great film. The only problem with it is that the action thriller part of it drives the story too fast to truly explore the implications of alternate realities and the effect of death on the human psyche (Colter dies at least 7 times).
So when he begins his investigation, every time interrogating a different person, everyone is a suspect. Very much a standard find the bomb and piece the clues together to find the terrorist and stop the bomb setup that is screaming for Jack Bauer to jump in and torture everyone before fucking everything up and killing everyone whilst somehow managing to save the day. But there’s one more piece of Hollywood tripe that drags down these interesting, high concept ideas. A woman.
Megan Fox is essentially a plot device in every film...she's just terrible.
Ah yes, the woman. The female of the species. The plot device for writers who need to stretch an action film to fill the average 90 minute running time for a film. Again, however, this could have been an interesting idea to toy with, as she essentially falls for Colter’s personality even though he is not in his own body. A serious WTF!? kind of situation. But no, ignore that, instead he has to save a woman he falls in love with after knowing her for a total of about 45 minutes…
No internet blog is complete without a picture of a cat...
This film has Hollywood’s greasy, fat, money grabbing hands all over it and is throwing in all of the usual action thriller tropes to take concepts down to the lowest common denominator in order to sell it to people who read The Sun and watch The X Factor. They are still assuming the audience are a bunch of idiots.
There is however, a glimmer of hope in all of this. Duncan Jones has done superbly well with the script he has been given to make a thoroughly enjoyable action thriller that raises enough questions from the sci-fi side of things to get the old brainbox thinking. Adding to the slowly growing trend of action films that actually make you think (do I really have to mention Inception?). Audiences are getting tired of the same old shit and want something with a bit of a brain to it.
So, 2 films in and Duncan Jones has a pretty impressive track record. The outstandingly observant and interesting Moon followed by the pulse pounding action thriller Source Code…all we need now is for him to mix the two together with his next film and he very well could be making the next Blade Runner - a great action film with a great big juicy philosophical sci-fi brain behind it.