Monday, 25 April 2011
The director is Duncan Jones. That is not his real name. His real name is Zowie Bowie. Who? He is the son of David Bowie but Duncan Jones doesn’t want you to know that he is the son of rock 'n' roll royalty. He wants you to think something else, to have you relocate his identity elsewhere or as far away as possible from his famous father. By the way, David Bowie (aka Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, etc) once starred as an alien in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 sci-fi classic, The Man who Fell to Earth.
And if you are beginning to think this introduction is unnecessarily head-scrambling, then that’s nothing compared to Duncan Jones’s time-warp, sci-fi thriller, Source Code.
An American soldier, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaall), wakes up on a commuter Chicago train. Sitting opposite him is Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who relates to him as if she is his wife or girlfriend. He, however, has no idea who she is. Eight minutes later, the train explodes. Gyllenhaall wakes up in an isolation booth where through some impenetrable quantum-physics babble he is sent back to the train using “time reassignment” technology. Each time, he is given a task (find the bomb, find the terrorist) by his handler. He must complete the task within eight minutes before the train blows up again. So far, so confused? Imagine Speed and Groundhog Day as if written by Professor Stephen Hawking....and that probably won't help.
Unfortunately, for Duncan Jones, his film has none of the popcorn thrills of Speed nor the wit of Groundhog Day. The riffing on a familiar scene does have a hypnotic quality as new details are revealed to the audience but this is at the expense of real race-against-the-clock white-knuckle tension. Source Code exists in two parallel cinematic universes. On the one hand, it wants to be a mainstream audience pleasing thriller and on the other, it wants to be an intelligent character study of a man who comes to knowledge of himself through endless repetition. Familiarity breeds self-knowledge might be the film’s existential premise.
In fact, the film does not exist in two, but three universes. It also wants to be a brief encounter romance and to tease a romantic lead performance from Gyllenhaall. With each eight minute trip to the train he becomes more attracted to the mysterious woman opposite him. However, while the train has no trouble igniting, their relationship fails to produce a believable spark. Gyllenhaall is condemned to running up and down the train aisle in a wild-eyed fashion until he snatches a final kiss from his true love and the audience are left with some Chinese cookie philosophy to choke on.
Source Code is slick and stylish. It is also very silly and not as clever as it would like us to believe it is. Unfortunately, it was just eight minutes too long for me.