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Living and reliving an eight-minute do-over

Lisa Miller
JAKE GYLLENHALL stars in Source Code
Photo: Jonathan WENK |

Alternate realities feed “Source Code,” a science-fiction thriller that bets its premise on the age-old notion of romantic love as the greatest motivator of all. The charms of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan, sell the romance, while the final act leaves us wishing the film’s last twist had been treated more thoughtfully.

As quantum mechanics and string theory evolve, theoretical physicists are grappling with the possibility of parallel universes. Some hypothesize that parallel universes are stacked atop one another like sheets of paper, while others believe that many universes may float within self-contained bubbles, housed together inside a much larger bubble.

Combine these tantalizing possibilities with the idea of transferring memories from one person to another, and the seeds are planted for an entertaining thought experiment.

“Source Code” drops US Army pilot Capt. Colter Stevens into the mind of a passenger killed in a terrorist assault on a train. Out of nowhere, Stevens (Gyllenhaal) awakens in the body of Sean Fentress, aboard a commuter train bound for Chicago. Stevens, unaware that he is in someone else’s body and is part of an experiment, has no idea why Christina (Monaghan), the adorable young woman seated across from him, seems to know him fairly well.

Eight minutes later the train explodes in an epic conflagration. Capt. Stevens experiences Fentress’s death, then recognizes he has returned to his own body. He soon learns he has been recruited for an experimental procedure. The facts are explained by officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a face on a monitor who informs Stevens he will be sent back to re-live the same eight minutes, as many times as necessary, to locate the perpetrator of the attack.

Although dead, Fentress’s final eight minutes of memory have been harvested expressly for this purpose. While in control of Fentress’s body, in addition to searching for the bomber, Stevens makes the most of his time. He falls for Monaghan’s Christina and uses this reality to learn more about the experiment he’s connected to. This portion of the film works extremely well, maintaining high levels of tension as Stevens teases out the various possibilities.

The film’s treatment of the mechanics supporting its science fiction premise, is a disappointment. However, it’s a good watch that persuades us to care about Stevens and to think about what we might do if we found ourselves with eight minutes to live.


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