An understandably confused Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up in the body of another man (there’s no way to say that without it sounding dirty) on an inbound Chicago Metra train with far more plush-looking seats than any train I’ve ever been on. And so begins Source Code, the sophomore effort from Moon director Duncan Jones.
The train blows up in a fiery explosion eight minutes later, but Gyllenhaal doesn’t die. Instead he is transported into a grungy pod where the gorgeous face of Vera Farmiga appears on a computer screen. She explains that he’s working within the experimental “Source Code” program, which can send him back in time using the short-term memory of one of the train’s fatalities. The train bomb is the first in a series of planned terrorist attacks, so his mission is to find the bomber’s identity before he hits his next target. Gyllenhaal can be sent back on the train for as many eight-minute trips as he needs (hint: it’s a lot), but he always starts back at the same point.
In its finer moments, Source Code is a good ol’ fashioned mystery, aided by a cool Hitchcockian score and plenty of close-ups that magnify Gyllenhaal’s expressive face. Adding to the question of which passenger is the bomber is the question of Gyllenhaal’s own existence. He plays an Army helicopter pilot who may (or may not?) have died in Afghanistan.
In its lesser moments, the film smothers under the redundancy of its over-ambitious plot. After the second or third exploding train I was ready to see a montage of Gyllenhaal’s discoveries leading him to the find terrorist. There’s too much pleading from Gyllenhaal to Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright (the inventor of the “Source Code”) for details about the machine and his own identity. Please, Jake — find the bomber, ask questions later. Even at a slim 93 minutes, the film feels gruelingly long.
To the film’s credit, it does offer some scientific backing for its concept. The whole eight-minute thing has something to do with a short-term memory window that still functions for eight minutes after a person’s death. Sorry, I didn’t take notes. Unfortunately the concept turns into such a nonsensical mess by the end that it renders the entire premise meaningless.
When Gyllenhaal asks Michelle Monaghan, who plays the girl he repeatedly wakes up next to on the train, “do you believe in fate?” it’s the first and only time the concept of fate entered my mind the entire film. It feels tacked on to add meaning to the human relationship (i.e. love story) between two people who, in real-life terms, met just a few minutes ago. And doesn’t the film’s premise work against the very notion of fate in the first place?