The new film Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal returns to science fiction that is less about futuristic technology and more about how an ordinary character deals with extraordinary circumstances.
The setting is a commuter train speeding toward Chicago. If Sean, the man who just awoke from a fitful nap, seems confused, it's because he is actually Captain Stevens, a military officer sent on a most unusual and critical mission into the mind of another person.
The officer at the other end of the communications link explains that Captain Stevens has been sent into the final memories of a bombing victim through an experimental computer program named Source Code. It allows him to see and hear and interact with the world of this other person for only eight minutes, his last eight minutes. But in that time, he needs to discover clues that could save many more lives.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Stevens who struggles with the concept but starts to believe he can change the past that he is sent back to relive over and over again.
"I remember reading the first 15 pages of the script, which is just like watching the first five minutes of the movie, being completely enthralled and then putting it down because I thought there is no way the rest is going to be as good as the first 15 pages. I couldn't help but pick it up again pretty quickly afterward. So I read the rest of it, was just blown away by it and thought to myself 'there is a great character in the middle of this movie and the only way this is going to be worlds beyond other movies in a similar genre is if you have a real character in there," Gyllenhaal said.
Vera Farmiga plays Captain Goodwin, the highly focused officer who is the time traveler's only link with the "real" world. She's a face on a screen who debriefs him, then re-starts the computer program that repeatedly sends him back to the doomed train.
"To me it's not so much what she is saying, but what she is not saying, what is difficult for her to say, what she is trying not to tell him and then making sure the thoughts were precise. I had to be compelled by the character in order for the audience to do the same. And for me that became about thoughts," Farmiga said.
Michelle Monaghan rounds out the triangle of main characters as Christina, the woman on the train who the time traveler encounters every time he is sent back on his mission.
Monaghan believes the science fiction merely provides an avenue into a powerful human drama. "Is it ethical to sacrifice one life to save thousands? After having seen the movie a couple of times and then going to dinner afterward, people were really debating it and I was really surprised by how provocative the material is. I knew when I read it that is was, but people have very strong opinions about it. It's n-o-t just black and white. It's very gray," Monaghan said.
Source Code is the second film for director Duncan Jones, who won acclaim for his 2009 drama Moon, also about solitary man on a dangerous mission.
Jones believes Moon and Source Code represent a return to what sci-fi films used to be like before they were overtaken by special effects.
"What we can do with special effects now has been driving the science fiction renaissance, but once everybody gets over the "whiz-bang" potential of the special effects - and they will, because at some point the explosions and the aliens and all of that are just not going to be the draw any more; you're not going to want to see that again. I am hoping and feeling fairly confident that it's going to be more about ideas and about richer story telling and interesting characters," Jones said.
Jones is at the beginning of his filmmaking career, but he's been exposed to show business his whole life. His father is legendary rock star and occasional actor David Bowie.