(Original post by Abiraleft)
When Christopher Nolan’s Inception
hit theatres last summer, it caused something of a furor, with critics at all levels praising its originality and calling it the most intelligent proper blockbuster in years. Besides further solidifying Nolan’s reputation as one of the best young directors around, perhaps Inception
also served to spark interest on another couple of levels: of more action films that might also be intelligent, of more intelligent films that might also be commercially successful (Inception
grossed over $800 million and is one of the highest grossing films of all time) and the revival on a large scale of the reality-questioning sci-fi film. While some fans have already begun calling for a sequel (much to the disgust of many others), they may be somewhat placated for the moment by Source Code
, the latest film from Duncan ‘Zowie Bowie’ Jones, which seeks to incorporate all of these elements.
The film opens to sequences of film that alternately zoom into a moving commuter train and depict an overhead view of Chicago. On this train, a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes, unsure of where he is or why he’s there. He quickly discovers after a brief interchange with a fellow passenger (Michelle Monaghan) that he should also be unsure of whom he is; he stumbles across the aisle, taking in the rest of the passengers, and trying to comprehend what’s going on – when there’s a massive explosion that seemingly annihilates the train and everyone on it. Then, on this train, a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes, unsure of where he is or why he’s there.
While it might make sense for some mainstream audiences to suspect Source Code
is a product of a stream of thought that originated with Inception
, it would be fair to say that this is untrue; a less known project of Jones’ was the 2009 multi-award winning independent film Moon
, which is also a sci-fi quasi-reality-centred movie. Both of these, of course, are influenced by what is arguably the instigator of the sub-genre, Blade Runner
, a film both Nolan and Jones have professed to be great admirers of. While they both draw on Blade Runner
thematically, however, they have taken very different approaches to the issues: while Inception
mirrors the coldly intellectual neo-noir aspect of Blade Runner
, Jones in Source Code
has, as he did in Moon
, chosen to focus on the more human element (in terms of Nolan comparisons, therefore, the film is more evocative of Memento
); as such, Gyllenhaal’s character fits well into the ‘more human than human’ characterization from Blade Runner
, particularly in comparison to several of the other characters.
The immediate comparison Source Code
sparked on release, however, was not with any of the above – most critics instead immediately likened it to the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day
. This comparison is unenviable, and an unfortunate one for Source Code
: although its focus is undoubtedly on a different plane to the former, with the overarching crime plot as essential as the human issue, the basis on which it is being compared – the fundamental change in character, the characterization process over the movie – does exist, and Source Code
is, on those grounds, distinctly inferior to Groundhog Day
. The point where one film succeeds and the other stumbles is after the pathos of the inescapable (which both films portray well in their respective styles) where the change in the characters is to be depicted; where in Groundhog Day
, this change is gradual and explainable, Source Code
seems to skip ahead, only really showing the end product and in effect making the change much less believable.
In terms of Source Code
as part of a continuity of Jones’ own work, there is a clear thematic link with Moon
. Despite Jones’ insistence that Moon
was not meant to be overtly political, there is an undeniably political theme that it shares with Source Code
: of exploitation, tied in to the deeply existential motif of both films; this is also yet another link Jones’ work has with Blade Runner
. In Source Code
, however, the stumbling block comes in the element of ambiguity: in both Blade Runner
, the philosophical and political issues are tied together by the intellectual ambiguity that defines the characters’ existences, as well as, to a lesser degree, moral ambiguity. Source Code
first plays up the moral ambiguity by placing the individual’s experience, and in a virtualized reality at that, against the collective’s in ‘the real world’; depictions of patriotism being used as a motivational tool add to this ambiguity, and the distress on both sides produces conflict that is both engaging and provoking. As it approaches its finale, however, the moral ambiguity is undone by the denouement in the plot, leaving the rest of the film somewhat bland: it is an easy choice between the protagonist and antagonists, while the film’s focus on human elements leave little intellectual ambiguity to compensate.
Ultimately, while Source Code
does not quite touch the standards of Moon
, it does pack in enough to be enjoyable and, for the most part, thoughtful. If nothing else, it does highlight the fact that Duncan Jones is probably as good a director as his début suggests, both in his technique and his choice of scripts.
I changed my approach a bit here, using shorter paragraphs (not to begin with: paragraph 3 and 4 were one paragraph to begin with, with some of 3 to be merged in 1; I thought somewhere in the middle that it might flow better this way). I'm not sure yet whether this makes the review more readable or just more sprawling, so comments to that regard would be much appreciated.