Script Reaction: Duncan Jones And Jake Gyllenhaal's Source Code

By Josh Tyler 2009-11-09 01:22:51discussion comments
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Script Reaction: Duncan Jones And Jake Gyllenhaal's Source Code image
Mere moments after the existence of the film was announced, the script for Scource Code showed up on desk. What is it? None other than the next project for much loved Moon director Duncan Jones and, while its setting couldnít possibly be more different than Sam Rockwellís outer space moon base in his last movie, it plays in many of the same twisty, mind-bending waters as that previous effort. Or maybe itís just a Bill Murray movie without the sense of humor.

The version of the script Iím reading was written by Ben Ripley, whose previous work was on a couple of direct-to-DVD Species sequels. This is the script Jones will use, however his version includes revisions by State of Play screenwriter Billy Ray. That means the final product may be significantly different and so weíll avoid going too far into detail here. This version is, however, likely enough to give us a broad idea of what theyíre going for. As is, the script is a taut and fast paced little thriller which uses a two very simple settings to craft a tense and mysterious sci-fi story. But if you really want to distill it down to its most basic form, Source Code is Groundhog Day meets Deja vu.

The script uses a familiar science fiction premise. A man wakes up in the same place, over and over and over again. In this case itís a moving train and thereís a bomb. The bomb explodes, he dies, and then wakes up again to repeat the whole thing over again. Itíll only stop when he finds out who has placed the bombÖ or maybe itíll stop when he finally saves the girl whom he slowly learns more about with each new encounter. Yep, thereís that obligatory Groundhog Day scene where he dazzles her with his extensive knowledge of her life. At first though the man, named Colter, doesnít know why he is where he is or whatís going on. Heís not even in his own body. Thereís more than one mystery here and heís forced to unravel all of them in the seventeen minutes he has each time he wakes up, before the bomb explodes.

Source Code director Duncan Jones.
Jake Gyllenhaal is, as I write this, in negotiations to star in the film and it seems likely heíd play Colter. Heís a soldier, the determined hero type. Heís not however, a particularly good detective. If thereís a flaw in the script thatís it. Colter repeatedly passes up obvious opportunities to discover whatís going on out of sheer, well, stupidity. Itís obvious heís confused but depending on how Jones handles it, this could end up frustrating the audience. Hopefully some of this will be cleaned up by Billy Ray, in his revised version of the script.

Thereís also the girl, named Christina. Sheís a Zooey Deschanel type but, hereís one of the really great things about the script: Though sheís into skulls and black nail polish, Source Code refuses to reduce her to some aging Goth girl stereotype. On the surface thatís exactly what she is but from the beginning Ripley refuses to pigeonhole her that way. Sheís interesting, almost out of step with everything else thatís going on, but in a completely refreshing way.

The scriptís other characters are either passengers on the train, most of whom get only a scene or in some cases only a fleeting moment, or soldiers whose role I wonít explain lest it lead to spoilers. Suffice to say the casting of two characters named Goodwin and Rutledge is critical. Like Christina, neither is simply the sum of what they appear to be. For that matter, neither is anything else.

But itís not the mystery that really made Ripleyís script such an easy read. Itís the way he describes the places Colter finds himself in. The detailed descriptions of the train, which Colter observes in an almost hyper-real manner caused by his condition, are the stuff of Holmesian observation. The characters too are remarkably alive, for people who in most cases, we only see in the briefest span of a momentary incident.

As with any script, how this turns out depends on what director Duncan Jones decides to do with it. The premise itself is a tried and true sci-fi/fantasy formula, with its own twists. Sure itís Groundhog Day with a bomb, but thatís not necessarily a bad thing. It has some of its own ideas about what it means to revisit the same moment in time until you get it right. Jones has already proven himself an excellent judge of style, pacing, and tone. His eye for the thoughtful and strange may be exactly what Source Code needs.
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