In trying to explain the plot of Source Code, one begins to sound so ridiculous that saying “I don’t want to spoil the surprise” becomes a tempting exit strategy from the conversation. Indeed, there is a surprise twist in the story, one that borrows layers from The Matrix to wrap around the basic premise of Groundhog Day, with a few explosions thrown in for good measure.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, an Army captain who wakes up on a train in someone else’s body (it’s already becoming awkward isn’t it?) while sitting across from a beautiful woman who seems to know him. The train explodes, and Stevens wakes up again in a space capsule-like pod, where he learns via a video transmission from a woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) that he is on a mission to identify the bomber of the train, a mission made possible by the source code of the title that allows him to inhabit someone else’s brain for the eight minutes before that person’s death. Stevens is sent back to the train pre-explosion, where he must gather clues. Eight minutes is not a long time though, and by the third time the scenario is reset, the audience is fully engaged.
But then Stevens gets curious about his mission, sort of falls in love with the woman sitting across from him, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), and well… I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Part of Groundhog Day’s success lay in the lack of explanation—the audience never learned why Bill Murray’s character kept waking up in the same day. Source Code should have taken the same route, but at an hour and a half the film is already quite short and perhaps needed the awkward exposition explaining Stevens’s predicament to meet a length quota.
If we can overlook the science fiction behind Source Code, the film becomes endearing in the same way Groundhog Day did, where the question of how to value the ordinary aspects of life superseded the implausibility of the story. Gyllenhaal plays the role perfectly, and the chemistry between him and Monaghan is sweet in a way that makes the film more about relationships than explosions or time travel. Source Code could be a disaster, but the moments between Stevens and Warren negate the eye rolling that accompanies other scenes.
Heroism may excite us, and technological possibility may amaze us, but in the end, it’s the possibility we could die while laughing, or kissing the girl we were finally bold enough to ask on a date, that makes life worth living. On the final leg of his mission, Stevens lives his eight minutes with an intensity of purpose that would make Buddha proud, eight minutes in which Gyllenhaal saves the girl and the film.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga
Runtime: 93 minutes
Released April 1, 2011
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