Saturday, October 20, 2012

Source Code

Movie Review : Source Code
Director : Duncan Jones
Genre : SciFi / Action
Starring : Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Released : 2011
My Rating : 8 out of 10

About 20 years ago, "Groundhog Day" successfully used the idea of someone stuck in a time loop, to create a memorable movie.  As you watch "Source Code", it is impossible to not be reminded of it. The 1993 Bill Murray movie was firmly in the "Romantic Comedy" genre, and did not offer any explanations as to why the time loop happened. On the other hand, "Source Code" is an action thriller, and does offer some explanation as to why this time loop is happening.

Near Chicago, a train is making its routine journey. On board, Sean (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes from his nap. He is sitting in front of a young woman who is acting as if she is his girlfriend. Sean doesn't recognize her. In fact he doesn't even think he is Sean. He thinks he is a soldier (Colter) and should have been in Afghanistan. As he is trying to make sense of all this, suddenly there is an explosion and Sean finds himself trapped in what seems like a remote isolated spaceship. Here on a screen a woman appears, indeed refers to him as Colter, provides little explanation and sends him back to the same point in time where he wakes up from the nap.

These first opening minutes are brilliantly done. Our curiosity is perked, we are confused a bit and desperately want to know what's going on. Next few iterations in the time loop reveal more and more details. As we get more clarity about what's going on, we start wondering why and how it's happening. That's when the movie starts feeling a bit lost in the maze.

Giving more details would reduce the impact of the style of the narrative – a style often labeled as "mind bending". We are told that past cannot be changed and the aim of the time travel is to only understand it more. That's a very reasonable premise. In any movie like this, you have to allow for certain technological feats. Sending someone's mind back in the past and superimposing it on another person's brain is the core idea here. Take it or leave it.

Since the character goes back in time to the same spot, there is a lot of repetition in subsequent events. Both director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley are successful in overcoming this big challenge. Whether you like the movie or not, you will not be bored. The story moves faster than the speed of the train on which it happens. It also helps that, at just about 90 minutes, it is not over-extended. The problem is elsewhere - incomplete explanations.

Jake Gyllenhaal is the centerpiece of the movie. His personality is simple and likeable, and his acting skills are more than adequate for this role. He starts out as much confused as us, pieces together the puzzle for and with us. As both Sean and Colter, he shows the progression of his realizations as the movie goes on.

As you can imagine, there are two things we are trying to solve here as viewers. Who is the bad guy that's causing the explosion, why is he doing that and how will he be stopped. Secondly, why is Colter being forced to undergo this traumatic time travel and how will it be resolved. The first works as the action movie, second works as the SciFi movie. The action movie is very flat. The whole "save the next terrorist attack" is not gripping at all. But it's realistic - because the "Source Code" technology only allows you to go back 8 minutes or so. Why 8 minutes, who knows ! Given that constraint, our hero can do only so much.

The SciFi part is the most interesting. From "Matrix" to "Inception", a common theme is to present the mind as something far more potent than the physical existence in which it is realized. Sometimes it's done via virtual reality, sometimes via mind manipulation. Here it's slightly different. The pseudo-philosophical discussions generated by such movies irritate me. But it's also true that a lot about mind and universe is still a mystery to us. Spoiler alert : If the movie makes you want to know more about what it says in the end, you can read Hidden Reality - but after watching the movie.

I recommend this movie as a solid science fiction movie. Know in advance that some of your questions will remain unanswered.

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