Script Reaction: Duncan Jones And Jake Gyllenhaal's Source Code
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 couldn’t possibly be more different than Sam Rockwell’s 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 it’s just a Bill Murray movie without the sense of humor.
The version of the script I’m 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 we’ll avoid going too far into detail here. This version is, however, likely enough to give us a broad idea of what they’re 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 it’s a moving train and there’s a bomb. The bomb explodes, he dies, and then wakes up again to repeat the whole thing over again. It’ll only stop when he finds out who has placed the bomb… or maybe it’ll stop when he finally saves the girl whom he slowly learns more about with each new encounter. Yep, there’s that obligatory Groundhog Day scene where he dazzles her with his extensive knowledge of her life. At first though the man, named Colter, doesn’t know why he is where he is or what’s going on. He’s not even in his own body. There’s more than one mystery here and he’s forced to unravel all of them in the seventeen minutes he has each time he wakes up, before the bomb explodes.
There’s also the girl, named Christina. She’s a Zooey Deschanel type but, here’s one of the really great things about the script: Though she’s into skulls and black nail polish, Source Code refuses to reduce her to some aging Goth girl stereotype. On the surface that’s exactly what she is but from the beginning Ripley refuses to pigeonhole her that way. She’s interesting, almost out of step with everything else that’s going on, but in a completely refreshing way.
The script’s 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 won’t 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 it’s not the mystery that really made Ripley’s script such an easy read. It’s 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 it’s Groundhog Day with a bomb, but that’s 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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