Source Code is what I call a “high concept” movie, like last year’s “Inception.” What I mean by this is that the viewer has to be able to understand and accept an implausible, difficult-to-understand concept. In the case of “Source Code,” the concept is, simply put, that the military possesses the ability to transport a man from his own body into that of another person for eight minutes at a time. I don’t think they ever explained why it was eight minutes, and not 10 or 20. In addition, this procedure can be repeated again and again. In “high concept” movies, the viewer either accepts the implausible high concept and enjoys them (e.g. “Avatar,” with a rather similar concept) or rejects them as too far-fetched and confusing (e.g. “Inception.”) For me, “Source Code” falls in the latter category.
In “Source Code,” our hero Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself on a commuter train heading into Chicago, not knowing who he is or why the woman sitting across from him calls him by another name. After eight minutes of confusion, an explosion rips through the train. Stevens re-awakens to find himself in some sort of pod, talking to Colleen Goodwyn, a worried-looking army officer on a TV monitor, who knows Stevens’ real name. Goodwyn explains that Fred has been transported from his mission in Afghanistan, to a new mission in the United States. She further explains that Stevens’ new mission is to continue to return to the train for eight minutes at a time until he can determine the identity of the bomber, who is currently threatening to set off more bombs in Chicago. This mission is urgent, and the sooner Stevens can determine the identity of the bomber, the better chance authorities will have to apprehend him or her before further damage can be done. She also tells Fred that everyone he meets on the train is already dead, so it does not matter what he does to them.
Stevens continues to travel back and forth in time, picking up clues and ruling out people each time. Goodwyn and her superior become more and more frustrated that Stevens hasn’t identified the bomber. Meanwhile Stevens wants to know more about his own situation, which Goodwyn and her superiors are unwilling to divulge. He is also beginning to care about his doomed fellow train passengers, especially Christina, the attractive girlfriend of the history teacher whose body Stevens inhabits.
All this goes along well for about half the movie. But after several more incidents of time travel, I began to become as frustrated as the characters with the movie. It becomes bogged down with plot developments. As was the case with “Inception,” there are dialogues between characters for the purpose of letting the audience know what is happening, so they won’t be totally confused. It is difficult to keep up the momentum and suspense with these interruptions. When the bomber is finally identified, it seems surprisingly anti-climactic.
Occasionally Stevens asks a doomed train passenger, “What would you do if you knew you only had one more minute to live?” This moral theme is the most interesting point of the movie. For him, it becomes the imperative to do what he can to save the passengers, especially Christina, despite repeated warnings from his superiors not to do so.
“Source Code’s” reflections on life and mortality raise it a level above routine thrillers. Unfortunately, it is unable to sustain its high concept and suspense for two hours.
Tom Condon, OP