Source Code (2011)

Source Code baffles, stutter-steps to make every second count but fails, repeatedly.

Minimalist, at times trying, the maneuverings of Duncan Jones’ PG13 sci-fi thriller Source Code makes convoluted the new necessary when in actuality it’s just repetitive, cumbersome and slow.  Jones is too smart for his own good, this his sophomoric second feature following a critically praised and incomparable Moon with Sam Rockwell, relying on short cut metaphors and blocky symbolism to fuel an otherwise bland take on the ticking clock scenario, chasing the sort of self-importance that Nolan brandishes with zeal.  Tangled like an exercise in plot mechanics, the story feels like a blueprint manufactured during Hollywood boardroom hash parties and thirty-second elevator pitches that end with a ‘ding’.  If you’re looking for crafted storytelling with fully realized characters and an emotional quality to relationships, you’re in the wrong theater.  If you prefer your soup thin, your ideas a palatable gray of easily digestible and oddly familiar portions, Source Code will suffice; a film that is every bit suggestion and innuendo with some running and explosions to give the illusion of substance and a trailer with sharp edges.

More interesting is what this film suggests about our obsession with violence and voyeurism, about our subconscious need for death row pardons, second chances and meritocracy.  In films about heroism and dutiful self-sacrifice, stories where someone is always dying for the betterment of all at the cost of a few, we get side tracked by the message, deployed to unfurl like a parachute blossom, covering poor delivery and sentimentality.  After the first 8 minutes of Source Code the story slows to a stop and idles far too long to feel like anything is moving – not even the train.  Before we can figure out what is happening the same people meet the same recycled fate, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes from a distance with no more than a kaboom, a puff of black smoke, a resounding flutter.  Not to worry, the 8 minutes can be replayed until the soldier gets it right – and they are, ad infinitum.  You could say this story is about the abuse of power and the absence of oversight in the face of uncharted ethical and moral ambiguity.  Maybe it’s just about a soldier’s sense of identity and desire to reclaim his individuality when the service he believed in fails to live up to what it once was.  Either way, you need an appreciation for redundancy and CG reaction-acting to connect with this story – or you could just sit through the same explosion a few dozen times to see if anything materializes.

If Source Code were a train wreck, literally, it would come apart in slow motion, replayed with nearly imperceptible changes along the way, changes set to automatic pilot, and arrive eventually, in smoldering pieces and fragments nearly imperceptible as pieces of a train.  The mission is clear even if the story is not.  If the mysterious people in control, the ones with the replay button that appear mostly in the monitor of Colter Steven’s ship, have something to learn it is only through repetition.  Unfortunately they don’t find what they’re looking for right away and neither do we.  We’re left stranded in fog, intrigued by dream speak from people who have either died or will die, people who are hard to care about if they are just going to blow up at the end of the conversation.  Eventually things shift and the people who need saving are elsewhere, everywhere, but we don’t see them or know them or see their faces.  The people we see are the impressions of people, a television signal or radio transmission in space carrying Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the birth of sitcom or Andy Griffith before he stopped smiling so much; we can make the connection but its peripheral, disjointed – much the way we feel about someone who has been dead for years.  Films like this fade along with box office receipts and cash register drawers, and while the bits are different the road is the same, important looking bombs and spilled coffee and the hapless passenger who just wants to return a lost wallet, not stop thermonuclear war.

Consider this the lite version of drama, the warning sign that the bridge up ahead has fallen down and a lot of people have died, a squint-view of the Tsunami wave from a distance so you don’t see the arms and legs floating in the tide.  You never get so much as a dirty toe traipsing in the underbrush of Source Code, not so much as a stubbed toe or puncture vine pricked heel.  At the end, after the last explosion and the last regurgitated chunks blow by in that slow motion whirl the Wachowski brothers made famous in the Matrix, and we realize there were no rules the whole time.  The characters lose it all and gain so much more.  We want to believe so much in ridiculous it almost feels right, the concept of it anyway, except we don’t live in suggestion and innuendo, and our explosions kill people.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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17 Responses to Source Code (2011)

  1. I’ve read several reviews of Source Code, and I’m pretty sure you and I are gonna disagree on it. I haven’t seen SC yet, but a Duncan Jones double feature one night soon will fix both the films of his I have yet to see.

    Once I get Source Code on BluRay, I’ll let you know what I think!

    • rorydean says:

      I’m curious about the disagree part – then again, it sounds like you’re going in with expectations even keel – and I’d suggest Moon first as it is vastly superior and stands solid as a debut for Jones. Did you know David Bowie is Jones’ papa?

      • Partially in response to this review, I’ve just come back from the video store with a rental of Moon, which I’ll give a watch this week, and Source Code comes out here on BluRay in late August. Expect my response accordingly!

        No, I was unaware that Jones had some famous heritage. Isn’t it interesting that he never followed Bowie into music….

      • Right, having now seen both films, I can honestly say that I disagree with your thoughts on Source Code – at least as far as the story goes: I thought Source Code was a neat little mystery that unwrapped quite nicely, layer by layer of clues and nuances coming into play throughout. Yes, it was a little flat in the “romance” moments between Gyllenhaal and Monoghan, and i think their relationship was perhaps too contrived, but the effect wasn’t so bad as to hurt the film overall.

        I love the way Duncan Jones isn’t afraid to slow things down with his storytelling: Moon was quite languid for the majority of its runtime, and Source Code, while ostensibly a thriller of sorts, is never in a hurry to unspool before us. Some may find this hard to correlate with a film advertised as more an action piece than a dramatic one, but I think it works quite well. Jones strikes me as the complete opposite to Michael Bay, and while I enjoy the latters works utterly, I can also appreciate Jones’ work equally as well.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    A well-paced and structured sci-fi thriller that’s as complex as it is clear-headed. Also, Gyllenhaal shows again why exactly he really is one of the better leading men out there, and proves he still has that charm. Still, this wasn’t anything amazingly special as everybody in the world made it seem. Good Review!

    • rorydean says:

      Interesting take, I can see your thoughts about Gyllenhaal and I tend to like him, even in Prince of Persia – I’m not sure about Jarhead and Moonlight Mile – but he’s definitely got enough screen presence to lead a story and believable while he’s doing it. I can’t agree with well-paced as I found the repetition not only distracting and unnecessary but it gave the whole story a sense nothing was moving forward, including any character development or surprise. Sure, the end was sort of unexpected but it also felt anti-climactic. “wasn’t anything special” sums it up for sure, and as for the over-hype, I think it had something to do with expectations (Jone’s first film Moon) and there wasn’t a lot of competition in theaters when it was released. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. bleuravyn says:

    In agreement over here in the wolf den… yes, Gyllenhaal is a good leading guy but it takes more than charm to have a successful film. I could see hints of the underlying ideas you mentioned such as lack of oversight and ethics by the “higher authorities” (as it were) but I just wasn’t buying it from the movie. I quickly bored with the repetitiveness. There are better ways to approach reoccuring events, i.e. Memento and even Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal’s the leading guy in that one too) that can keep the audience, or me at least, glued to the screen to see what happens even if I’ve just seen it. Thanks for your thoughts and Cheers!

  4. Great review once again Rory..I posted this on my wall if that is okay?Love Brother Jim…

    • rorydean says:

      Thank you Jim. Always appreciated. Thank you for wanting to post it and as always, I encourage you to share my work with your audience of writers, artists, and musicians. best-

  5. Simon says:

    “More interesting is what this film suggests about our obsession with violence and voyeurism” – I love this! Its so true too. We want control but we have to accept that we cannot neccessarily control others. My initial take was how the film completely bailed on an end that could have been filled with a profound take on spirituality.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Simon — Thanks for the kind words. It is so true, isn’t it? It seems like these days, concept films tend to take the low road, especially with regards to spirituality. Eat Pray Love, Hereafter, and dozens more all feel compelled to vanilla-ize stories and characters, somehow choosing mediocrity as the median between everyday mass consumption and something more profound. I guess that is why I am so often discouraged at the theater, and I’m not alone. See ya around-

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