The Daily Californian Online

Unfinished Business

By Michelle Lee
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Film & Television

You might have experienced waking up from a nap while traveling, for a moment forgetting where you were. You might have panicked for a swift moment, but then remembered where you were going and brushed it off with a smile.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has nothing to smile about when he wakes up on a train going who-knows-where. He doesn't know who the woman sitting across from him is, and he's not too happy to find himself a completely different man, either.

Thus opens "Source Code," the latest movie from rising director Duncan Jones. Acclaimed for his last film "Moon," Jones proves to be a very powerful filmmaker, combining the unknown and the impossible to create an engrossing thriller.

Confusion is far from certainty, but ironically that is the only constant given throughout the film. Stevens knows just as little as the audience does, and his desperate attempts to seek order in a chaotic situation makes it easy to empathize with him. The lack of information he is given regarding his mission is appalling. Unwillingly thrust into the Source Code - a program that allows him to relive the last eight minutes of another man's life over and over again - he seemingly cannot remember where he was before entering it. In an attempt to save others from the bomber who killed the passengers (on the same train he's riding), Officer Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) force Stevens to relive the moment continuously. In this fashion the story unfolds, where events seem to precede understanding and memories are made inaccessible.

Stevens' growing paranoia, brought about by the nature of his mission, manifests itself through his heightened senses. A bag of chips crackle; coffee splashes noisily; a man grumbles that he is late and a student stares at a notebook in preparation for a psychology midterm. The cameras flash erratically from passenger to passenger, and close shots of Gyllenhaal swiftly observing the passengers display his suspicion of every passenger on board, no matter how utterly normal they may be. His suspicion is shared by the audience, who follow his lead in finding fault in his fellow passengers.

Gyllenhaal plays Stevens as painfully human, vulnerable and frustrated. He snarls and shouts in anger; in other moments, his pensive stare fills the screen. In a moment of deep sorrow, he struggles to hold back tears, biting his lips and wiping his eyes when he cannot contain them. Gyllenhaal succeeds in making Stevens a man who, despite having faults and weaknesses, tries hard to make things right again.

The eight-minute limit placed upon Stevens' constant travel grounds the film's pacing, despite its heart-racing moments and surprises. It doesn't crawl, nor does it race ahead, but steps steadily into an unexpectedly peaceful conclusion. Just as the audience knows Stevens will be thrown back into the Source Code after eight minutes, so they know that the movie will eventually reach some kind of answer and an end.

The film's strength lies in its ability to simultaneously confuse and shock its viewers. As with most movies, there are questions left unanswered - the dubious technology, for one, and the questionable behavior of some characters - but that doesn't deter the movie from being thoroughly entertaining, and at times deeply moving and surprisingly funny. Enter "Source Code," where the impossible awaits, and you'll come out confused - but in the best way possible.

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