The film I am covering is the 2011 sci-fi thriller bottle-movie – Source Code, directed by the great Duncan Jones (who just released his new film ‘Mute’ on Netflix).
Admittedly, this is kind of cheating.
Source Code is not technically a time travel story, but it does work with the narrative-device of going back and forth across the 4th dimension of a narrative, so I figured it would fly.
In Source Code, we follow Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens. During the course of the movie, we learn that he was recently involved in a helicopter-crash in Afghanistan, and that he is almost dead, with only his brain still functioning.
After the crash, he was transported to a military base in America, where he has been kept alive, and plugged into a device that lets you experience the last eight minutes of a person’s life.
Dr. Rutledge, the creator of this experimental government program, played by Jeffrey Wright, wants to use Captain Colter Stevens to avert a massive terrorist attack.
Only hours before the movie starts a train heading for Chicago was bombed, killing all aboard. The authorities have reason to belive that more attacks are incoming. We later learn that a man named Derek Frost, played by Michael Arden, is the bomber, and that he is planning to take out Chicago with a nuclear device.
By letting Colter experience the last eight minutes of the life of one of the victims on the train, they can investigate the scene of the atrocity, from a time before the explosion wiped away all evidence and eye-witness testimonies.
Colter is placed within the memories of a teacher named Sean Fentress, who is commuting with a colleague named Christina Warren, played by Michelle Monaghan. Sean and Michelle seem to have been crushing on each other, before they were crushed by the explosion.
Colter now has to try to figure out where the bomb is, who placed it there and where the next bomb will go off out in the real world. All while trying to investigate his own situation both in the simulation, and in between memory loops as he talks to his handler Colleen Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga.
Colter slowly learns new information, gets blown up, goes back to the start of the eight-minute loop, learn a bit more, gets blown up, and so on, and so on.
Source Code follows the same formula of a character slowly learning the ins and outs of a time loop as in Groundhog Day, but it draws just as heavily from check-point systems in modern video games, where you restart from a given point upon failure, so that you can immediately try again.
In fact, the film has some important references to games.
The name of the Source Code project is Beleaguered Castle, a variation on the solitaire card game. Solitaire is a puzzle for one player to solve, just like the train-bombing is a puzzle for Colter Stevens to solve.
That aspect of the film is something that it shares with the Tom Cruise movie ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’, and since that film came out three years later, I would not be surprised if someone saw Source Code and went “I like this movie, but we could make it better if we added aliens!” To be fair, that is a pretty fun flick.
Source Code is a great film, and if you have not seen it yet, you should.
It has romance, comedy, action, and even a bit of existential dread.
I may have spoiled some big points, but not so much as to ruin the experience.
At the start of this I admitted that this is not exactly a movie about time travel per se, but I think that I may want to recall that statement.
For what is memory, if not a form of time travel?