Sunday, 17 April 2011

Source Code

Playing a little like an action version of 1990s TV series Quantum Leap, the latest feature by Duncan Jones, Source Code, manages to blend time travel, romance and (faux) quantum physics into an extremely pleasing thriller.

Its central protagonist, Captain Colter Stevens, a military pilot whose last memory is of a helicopter crash, awakes on a train to Chicago seated opposite a mysterious woman who appears to know him. Completely disorientated, he flounders through the train, discovering along the way that the face in the mirror is different from his own just before the whole train is destroyed by a terrorist bomb. He then awakes in darkened chamber where he is cagily informed that he is on a mission to discover the identity of the bomber, a task that exploits an experimental technology, the Source Code of the title, that allows him to relive the last 8 minutes of the life of a passenger on the train. Repeatedly "sent back in", Colter gradually uncovers the evidence sought by his military handlers, but he also exploits the technology to discover more about his own fate outside the Source Code. He also forms a connection with those people he meets through the Source Code, and ultimately uncovers a transformational secret about the technology unknown to its stern and ambitious creator.

Another clever gem from Jones, IMHO. Not one that will appeal to everyone I suspect, but it pushed a number of my buttons: science fiction, quantum mechanics, consciousness, noble self-sacrifice, etc. It even threw in a cute, if rather perfunctory, romance. The only thing I thought that it got slightly wrong was in the way it handled its central conceit. Basically, it borderline fluffed it, and almost made something high concept which seemed straight out of a Greg Egan novel seem like a glossed-over MacGuffin. A few more words from Jeffrey Wright's scientist, perhaps even ones minted by Egan, and it would have cruised over this. As it stands, the film's final revelation will for many people seem like a tacked-on happy ending instead of what it actually is, a rather clever variant of Many Worlds. Still, being versed in Egan, this didn't spoil it for me. I was genuinely impressed that a film, an action film, was able to make something of ideas similar to those that populate his books, and still find space to make me care about its characters.

Grade: A (low +3 on the Leeper Scale)

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