Time waits for no one
Keywords: Identity, relationships, heroes, selflessness, priorities, time, death
Film title: Source Code
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Distributor: Summit Entertainment (USA); Optimum Releasing (UK)
Cinema Release Date: 1 April 2011 (USA/UK)
Certificate: PG-13 (USA); 12A (UK) Contains one use of strong language and moderate threat
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What would you do if you had only a minute to live?
Time and time again, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is faced with the certainty of death. He finds himself on a Chicago-bound train, opposite a woman named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), whom he doesn’t recognise, but who is chatting to him as though she knows him. Bewildered by her familiar attitude, Stevens seeks refuge in the toilet where, to his horror, he finds that the face in the mirror is not his own. Rifling through the wallet he finds in his pocket, he realises that he is in the body of a suburban school teacher, just as an explosion rips through the train.
With this opening scene, Duncan Jones’s sci-fi thriller Source Code draws the viewer into the fast-paced, nail-biting plot for the next hour and a half. Tightly scripted by Ben Ripley, the movie shuttles back and forth between a time in the recent past, and the present. Immediately after the explosion, Stevens finds himself in a pod-like container where he is told that he is under the command of Officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). He learns that he has been drafted into a top-secret scientific mission to prevent a series of bomb attacks on Chicago. The military has developed a futuristic technology called ‘source code’ by which they can reassign time for a certain period in the past. Now, his task is to go back to the eight minutes before the explosion to try and identify the bomber.
Thematically, the movie borrows heavily from films like Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors and even Inception. Theoretically, the concept itself is full of holes, but while it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny it does make for good cinema. The storyline required three main sets between which the plot alternates: the train, the mysterious pod where Stevens finds himself between source codes, and the scientific lab from where Goodwin and Rutledge direct his entry into each source code. Jones’s challenge was to keep the story fresh and engaging for the audience, despite the repetition of the same scenes. He managed to keep the plot gripping enough by giving the audience exactly the same amount of information as the characters. Gyllenhaal and Monaghan are excellent, bringing slight nuances to each repeated depiction of the same scene. Each time Stevens is hurled into a source code to gather more evidence, two things happen simultaneously - the idea that he can actually prevent the explosion from happening altogether grows stronger, and he finds himself falling a little more for Christina.
Before becoming a director, Jones trained in philosophy, and in this story, as in his debut Moon, he continues to explore questions of identity and the implications of the possible mutability of time. And while, according to Philip French of The Guardian, ‘the proliferation of recent scientific and technological discoveries more than hint at the possibility of such matters [like time reassignment] moving on from metaphor to reality’, it hasn’t happened yet. Time still does not wait for any man and it still cannot be changed. If anything, the movie stresses the importance of living fully in the now. Desperate to prevent another tragedy from happening, Stevens uses every minute in each source code to search for clues about the bomber, and about his own identity. In his last source code, Stevens doesn’t know if his plan to save the train is going to work, and the nearness of death brings him face to face with the dearness of life. With eight minutes to go, Stevens makes choices that reveal his priorities in life – he makes a call to his father with whom he had parted on a strained note, kisses the girl he has begun to fall in love with, and encourages a compartment full of indifferent commuters to somehow connect despite their differences.
Isn’t it interesting that in the last moments of his life, Stevens focuses on the most important aspects of life? Making amends, patching relationships, letting past hurts go, and present loves know. But why does it always take a crisis before we begin to make changes to those things that really matter in life? Why do we allow things that shouldn’t have a place in our lives to linger – broken relationships, cruel barbs we so heedlessly throw in a moment of spite, unsaid words of love and reconciliation? Do we allow ourselves to be lulled into numbness by the anaesthetic routine of life, denying the pain we cause and receive? Will it take the unavoidability of death to jolt us out of that numbness? And by then will it be too late? Or do we think that if we ignore the inevitability of death, we might actually avoid it?
For Stevens, it was the reality that he had moments to live that made him want to set things right. All of us have made mistakes in life; we all have regrets. At some point or another we have all given in to the selfishness of our nature and made choices that go against our consciences. Time and again we choose to rebel against God, hurting others and dulling our conscience in the process. We live as though there will be no accounting for our lives. The certainty of death, however, has a way of putting life into perspective, and the movie’s tagline captures the longing we have for one more chance to ‘change the past, [and] save the future’. While the past is unchangeable, the future can still be saved. Prompted by his sense of duty, Stevens chose to enter into another reality to stop the bomber and save the passengers on the train. On the other hand the Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God who entered into our reality because he loved us. He chose to become a human being and to take the punishment we deserved by dying in our place. If we believe that he did this for us, and accept his offer of a relationship, our past will be forgiven and he offers us a brand new future with him beside us. Here is a chance to make the changes we long for - to ask for forgiveness for all the pain we have caused, and to start again with a clean slate. And while we may still have to live with the consequences of our past, we can live knowing that we are forgiven by God. We don’t have to wait for a crisis; we can choose whether we want to accept that offer now.
We don’t know when we will die, but it is certain that we will. We might have more that just eight minutes to live, but we all are on a train that’s hurtling towards the end of time, and now is the time to make a decision.
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Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.