SOURCE CODE. Intelligent science fiction dressed as an action movie

Duncan Jones’s second film begins with an “earthquake”: Captain Colter Stevens wakes up on a train.


5 December 2023

SOURCE CODE. Intelligent science fiction dressed as action movie

He doesn’t know how he got there, doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror, and the girl sitting across from him treats him as her friend Sean. Before anything can be explained, the train explodes. For those who haven’t seen the trailers, the first sequence will be truly stunning.

Later, the tension increases: the captain wakes up in a secret laboratory of the U.S. army, now as himself. He learns that as part of the Source Code program, he will inhabit one of the passengers on the fateful train to find the terrorist. The commanders don’t tell him much about the program: the immortality code allows the recreation of time, specifically the last eight minutes of the deceased passengers’ lives. Captain’s missions are purely preventive – capturing the terrorist will prevent further attacks. The scope of Stevens’s authority is clearly defined by one of his superiors: you are a pawn – we send you in circles, and you act. And again, Stevens wakes up on the familiar train opposite Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Again, for eight minutes. During the search for the terrorist, he also tries to find out on his own what is really going on.

Source Code Jake Gyllenhaal

In Source Code, Duncan Jones found a golden mean between ambitious but rarely watched artistic cinema and popular action cinema beloved by audiences. His debut Moon was a great film, appreciated at film festivals, but it remained a niche work, little known to the general public. Neither the slow action nor the economy of expression (the characters are one actor and one machine) nor the unsettling label of “artistic film” encouraged distributors or viewers. In Source Code, the Englishman decided to adopt a different tactic and shoot his film according to Alfred Hitchcock’s golden rule: first an earthquake, and then the tension must rise. And it does. Hollywood actors such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, and Michelle Monaghan also ensured public interest. And all this was achieved without unfortunate special effects pasted wherever possible. The cinematographers, editors, and special effects experts all applied commendable restraint. Only the screenwriter Ben Ripley went a little wild. But let it be. And so Jaco van Dormael could take reading comprehension lessons from him.

Source Code Vera Farmiga

Despite all these “compromises,” the director remained true to science fiction traditions: everything revolves around science, modern technology, and discussions about the definition of humanity in this technologically advanced world. In Source Code, science reaches the limits of humanity – and death ceases to be fair, ceases to be the ultimate experience common to all people. Until now, filmmakers had rather taken away the right to live from their characters, but the creators of Source Code take away the right to die from the characters (and this is not necessarily about euthanasia). At first, this seems absurd, then revolutionary, and finally disturbing. The answer to one character’s question: am I alive? – is: your condition is irrelevant, and your death does not exempt you from the duty to serve your country. Thus, a simple plot about finding a terrorist turns into a multi-layered story about the boundary of humanity, the right to live and die.

Source Code Jake Gyllenhaal

This is not far from the classics of the genre: Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, or James Cameron and their pessimistic vision of the future, where science and technology become sources of enslavement and degradation of the human race. And here Duncan Jones makes a real turn and opposes the masters. Because in his films, both in Moon and in Source Code, hope triumphs. Hope that is unfashionable, a bit naive. Risky hope. But Jones has the courage to take risks. Technological development leads to dystopia for him. Humanity wins. Colter Stevens is the embodiment of humanity and hope in Source Code. Perhaps not very clever, but at the same time humble, ready to sacrifice, morally blameless. Stevens does not ask why me and does not deliver ten-minute monologues in praise of the fatherland. He simply tries to fulfill his duties without complaint. Jake Gyllenhaal played his character surprisingly maturely, and Michelle Monaghan and her increasingly “real” Christina as the situation develops should also be appreciated. Both are ordinary, imperfect, and therefore likable, normal, human… Jones took a risk, but he came out of it unscathed.

Source Code Jake Gyllenhaal Michelle Monaghan

There are a few things in the film that are not entirely logical, doubts about the identity of Colter/Sean, for example, will not be sensibly explained until the end. But as Karol Irzykowski wrote: the main advantage of a poet – science fiction must be inventiveness. It may lack elaboration, but the novelty of the main idea is a necessary condition. Duncan Jones proved for the second time that he is a full-fledged poet – fantasist.

Author of the text: Anna Dranikowska



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