It seems in the past year or so Hollywood sci-fi films have given up on logic and coherence in the name of sheer audacity. What exactly were the rules of Christopher Nolan's dream-within-a-dream realm of subconscious in Inception? I don't think anyone is quite one-hundred percent sure. Even Nolan himself. Still, that big four layer kick in the climax was just about the awesomest cinematic moment of 2010. And I don't know if I ever bought The Adjustment Bureau's declaration that said suits existence encouraged the building of the Roman Empire (or whatever), but watching Matt Damon and Emily Blunt magically travel through doorway portals and onto the field at Yankee Stadium or the shores Liberty Island was, for lack of a better word, sweet. Source Code is a close relative to these other goose-pimple inducing head-scratchers.
And believe you me, your head will be scratched. Of course that is part of the fun as our hero, Air Force pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), wakes up mysteriously on a Chicago bound train in the first few moments of Source Code. What's weird about being on a train? I know. What's weird is that the last thing Stevens remembers is flying a combat mission in Afghanistan. He's as confused as we are and it only gets worse. The passenger across from him is an adorable young woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who keeps calling him Sean, and minutes later the whole train explodes and everyone is engulfed in a huge inferno. But that's not the end. Oh no. Stevens wakes up again in some kind of Tarkovsky-esque, metal cocoon and a military garbed Sgt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga with piercing green eyes) appears over a monitor to send him back to the same eight minutes again. His mission: find the bomb and the bomber.
It's a task easier said than done, especially in small eight minute time frames. The same can be said regarding Source Code's filmmakers who have an equally grueling task on their hands: make each eight minutes a clever play on repetition as well as a device for divulging vital new info. Who is Colter Stevens? Who's this guy Sean? What the hell is the "source code"? To say that the film answers all the questions it poses would be a lie, especially when it reaches into Stephen Hawking territory (parallel universes, neurological chemistry, quantum physics, YIKES!).
Lets just say the film succeeds best when it remains here on earth. Screenwriter Ben Ripley, gratefully, brings enough humanity to his story (between calculus lessons) to make his characters worth caring about. Things like Christina's naive warmth and Stevens' struggle for reconciliation even through the prison-like planes of identity and dimension are the true wonders in a film that packs more density of human spirit than scientific intrigue.
It also doesn't hurt that director Duncan Jones keeps his train paced smoothly and gets real emotion from Mr. Gyllenhaal and real charisma from Ms. Monaghan along the way. And from the suspenseful heavy strings of Chris Bacon's score over the opening credits I could tell Jones had his Hitchcock hat on. The political paranoia, the race against the clock, "strangers on a train": Hitch's touch graced so many moments of the film that I loved.
I can't necessarily say the same for the ice-cream headache I got trying to decipher Source Code's slightly impenetrable final minutes. Like Inception and The Adjustment Bureau before it, Jones' film raises more questions than it can answer, but head-scratching aside, this thriller is as compelling as it is audacious.