Source Code DVD Review
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Be on your toes, Lucas and Spielberg - Duncan Jones is hot on your heels...
Science fiction fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief as we welcome back into our midst director Duncan Jones. Source Code is only Jones’ second feature-length film after his debut movie Moon (2009), but has already been met with high praise from both audiences and critics. Source Code follows US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he is continually forced to relive the last eight minutes of another man’s life aboard a commuter train heading for Chicago through the use of a revolutionary new technology (involving quantum mechanics) to try and find out who planted a bomb aboard said train. If you’re confused, don’t worry, the film does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could.
Source Code may only be Jones’ second film, but I already found myself dreading it as I placed myself on the household's communal three-piece suite. In my mind, there was no way that he could possibly top Moon, one of my favourite sci-fi films to date, so surely I was taking part in some sadistic exercise by willingly letting myself in for 90 minutes of disappointment. Surely there was no way that Source Code could even begin to meet my high expectations; yet, as I reflected on what I had just seen a little over out an hour and a half later, I was ecstatic to be proved wrong. Source Code explores many of the same themes as Moon, such as the ethics and responsibilities that come with new technology, but it explores them in a different setting, and in a much more fast-paced environment. I was delighted to realise that it’s not about one film being better than the other because they are telling completely different stories based in completely different sections of technology and science, and both with an incredibly capable director behind the camera.
The film begins with a scene reminiscent of old thriller movies, particularly the classic Hitchcock films that surrounded that era. The music is full of suspense and foreboding and there is a certain ‘Hitchcockian’ paranoia that begins to grow as the protagonist wakes up on an unfamiliar train, not knowing how he got there, desperately trying to convince a woman that he is not the man she believes him to be. The audience is thrust into the same confusion that Colter Stevens is experiencing, creating a sympathetic link between audience and character, securing a certain bond between us and him that continues throughout the film as he battles to uncover the truth of what is happening. Like in any good suspense thriller, you gradually learn things with the character that you are following. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s character first begins asking questions, wondering what is going on, so does the audience, meaning that we feel more comfortable because he is in the same position as us.
Duncan Jones isn’t the kind of director to just present a series of events; he tells you a story in which the protagonist is your lifeline. You experience the events of the film through the protagonist’s eyes, meaning that you reach a level of empathy with the character that is rare in a high-suspense action-thriller, and Jake Gyllenhaal accomplishes this feat masterfully.
Speaking of Gyllenhaal, a lot of the film’s success is in fact, down to the expert casting within. Gyllenhaal, an incredibly sympathetic actor, sets a high bar for the quality of acting, and the rest of the cast meet that bar in earnest. Jeffrey Wright, an underrated actor if ever I saw one, provides the part of antagonist, for lack of a better word, lending his baritone voice to an eloquent delivery and truly believable character. The ‘villains’ of Source Code, and even Moon, are rarely bad people. When allowed to explain their actions, their objectives are essentially for the betterment of society but have lost sight of their humanity in the pursuit of these greater goals. These are shown as a counterpoint to the experience of Colter Stevens in a way that illustrates the struggle between scientific advancement and our own morality. The film is beautifully written and the aesthetic is just as striking, but without the high calibre of actors to take part, the emotional intensity of the plot would have been lost.
Of the writing I will say that I refuse to give away anything but the most basic of plot proceedings, not because of any blatant twist or turn, but because the plot is revealed at such an elegant and beautiful pace that I don’t feel I could do it justice; I simply wouldn’t know where to start. Speaking of not knowing where to start, I should warn you that the first few minutes of the film will be moderately confusing, as intended – the film is essentially dealing with quantum mechanics and time travel – and I implore you to ignore that slightly daunting concept. The film, while dealing with incredibly complex scientific issues, doesn’t allow you to get lost and doesn’t ask you to understand the science of it all; Duncan Jones already proved his expertise in Moon as he gradually brings the audience, along with his protagonist, into the circle of understanding without overwhelming anyone with information. The film explains everything it needs to for you to be able to follow, understand and care about the story, and that is what matters.
While the film could never be portrayed as a comedy, despite its occasional description as ‘Groundhog Day meets Speed’, it does have an air of frivolity about it that plays well against the tension, highlighting the absurdity of the situation. The comedy is subtle, but most definitely there, and Gyllenhaal executes this quick wit brilliantly, making for some much needed comic relief between the more dramatic scenes. Duncan Jones has developed a flair for entertainment that was slightly dormant in Moon, but is now showing through.
Source Code, much like its predecessor, concerns the ethics of scientific progression. In a world where technology is moving at a pace equal to that of a snowball gathering speed and size as it rolls downhill, Jones' films allow us to take a breath; to pause and truly look at what our society is becoming. In one of the DVD extras, Vera Farmiga, who plays a key character called Goodwin in the film, describes Duncan Jones as ‘bringing warmth to what can be a very cold genre’, bringing emotion back into the cold, calculated world of science fiction. Jones seemingly has a talent for taking a plot that would, in a lesser film, be about the wider picture of humanity, of saving hundreds of lives, but instead making it about this one person – a personal journey of one of the lab rats that allow us to progress as a species. Source Code is not so much about the science, or the threat that slowly becomes apparent throughout the film, it is about Jake Gyllenhaal’s character and his story, calling deeply into question the ethics of 21st century science.
Put simply, this is a frankly mesmerising film that takes you on an intense journey, with believable characters supported by brilliant acting, and a story line that any writer should be proud of. I will say that the film let itself down slightly with the ending; it should have ended about four minutes before it did at a particularly poignant moment (if you see the film I think you will know exactly the moment I am talking about), and, while the last four minutes are good in their own way, it seems to me that they belonged to a different, less intelligent film, in which Tom Cruise or Jason Statham might be the star. Without giving too much away, the moment it did end, and the moment it should have ended, are two completely different things in the world of the film, and I have to admit I would have preferred the latter.
Source Code is essentially a science fiction film for people who want to be entertained rather than taught about technology; it is less about technology, and more to do with the ethics of using said technology, with a few explosions thrown in here and there, and a love story hiding underneath. The aesthetic suggests nothing of the low budget it was shot on, and the acting is equally incredible. Let’s face it, if you want an intelligent film that will allow you to stretch your intellectual muscles you will enjoy Source Code for the brilliant and emotional journey that it is. If, however, you just fancy a thriller with a bit of fast-paced action and explosions you needn’t worry because Source Code caters to this audience also. First Moon, now Source Code... something tells me that Duncan Jones has a lot more up his sleeve, and he’s only just getting started.
The special features on the DVD are a strange amalgamation of high quality and not so high quality. The highlight of the extras is the detailed ‘behind the scenes’ interviews with the cast and crew, such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones himself, about the various aspects of the film. It is always enjoyable to watch actors and directors talk about their time on set, especially when you can tell that everyone loved working on the film, and these interviews communicate that information while spanning a wide variety of subject matter, giving keen insight into both the filming process and the acting process.
Another part of the special features is the audio commentary with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, director Duncan Jones, and writer Ben Ripley. I’m a big fan of audio commentaries, as they often provide information and jokes that you would otherwise be unaware of. You get the chance to listen to the people who worked first-hand on the film divulge in-jokes and even fascinating stories about what decisions were made, and why. This commentary delivers on all of those levels; after all, who better to talk about the film than the writer, the director, and the main actor?
The feature which explains in more detail, and in simplified terms, the scientific concepts of the film (such as quantum mechanics) would be useful to any viewer interested in the parts of the film that are based in scientific fact. Unfortunately, having praised the previous special features for their quality, I cannot say the same for all of it. One feature, ‘Expert Intel’, involves a rather boring monologue from a scientist, and yet another feature involves watching the film itself with occasional bodies of text popping up on screen with random bits of information about time-travel films. These features let down the DVD a bit, but the interviews and audio commentary are definitely worth a watch.
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