By Bryan Menegus
Source Code is essentially two related movies. The first asks the question: If Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a helicopter pilot for the American army in Afghanistan, how did he end up in a metallic pod, obeying the orders of strangers via computer screens? The second seeks to stop a domestic terrorist from detonating a nuclear device in downtown Chicago. Mystery plots make for strange bedfellows.
While Duncan Jones, director of 2009's Moon (and, incidentally, the son of David Bowie) shoots the film economically and intelligently, Gyllenhall's antics of counter-terrorism and identity crisis ask a lot from its audience. First is the concept of the "source code" itself, which is only briefly explained in the movie. We're told that a source code is the eight minutes of short-term memory present in a human brain at the moment of death, which— by a classic sci-fi leap in technology and logic— is accessible to test subjects (like Capt. Stevens) with superior cognitive ability. Stevens is tasked with using the source code of Sean Fentress, a man killed in a recent train bombing, to find out how the attack was carried out and use this information to quash future terrorist incidents (incidents which push the plot of Source Code forward, albeit blindly, as they are never confirmed as anything more than good hunch).
Because it's a mystery at its heart, Source Code is difficult to review without spoiling. However, its numerous plot holes make most of the mystery not worth explaining. If you can pretend that human cognitive function works in the way described in this film, and you can believe that, using amputated memories, Capt. Stevens could experience things Mr. Fentress did not, Source Code still begs you to believe in the existence of a multiverse. Undoubtedly, this is a movie that will make you think, but further consideration only draws its inconsistencies into starker focus.
By far, the biggest disappointment in Source Code is its wasted potential. What feels like an extra five minutes are tacked onto the end of the movie, spoiling its harrowing and bittersweet "ending"— a frozen moment so beautiful in its completeness that unless screenwriter Ben Ripley was intending to anger the entire audience with a Hollywood finish, he failed utterly.