SXSW Film: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Source Code Character Study

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Published March 14, 2011

At a roundtable interview following the South by Southwest premiere of Source Code, Michelle Monaghan jokingly recalled her initial worries about meeting director, Duncan Jones (Moon). “It was the first time I ever Skyped and I was thinking to myself, ‘If I can’t Skype, how is he ever going to hire me for this sci-fi film?’ I’m like the least techy person ever! I’m going to look like the biggest tool!” Equal parts cerebral sci-fi, Hitchcock thriller, and action movie—think Indiana Jones caught in the Matrix, wearing a Cary Grant-style Kilgour suit—Source Code tells the story of Captain Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a soldier whose final mission involves waking up on a train in another man’s body in order to prevent a future bomber’s attack. Further complicating the assignment, Colter Stevens is limited to eight-minute intervals of sleuthing that recur over and over and over again: time-travel whiplash, inspired by movies as varied as Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day, Roshomon, and Sliding Doors.

Bolstered by nuanced performances by Vera Farmiga—an Oz-like Air Force captain who ushers and instructs Gyllenhaal—and Monaghan as Christina, his love interest and, to some degree, his raison d’être, the film navigates two realities while diffusing its intensity with humor. Gyllenhaal spoke passionately to Interview on the significance of comedy in his work: “Every movie I love and every character I love [points at] the absurdity of a situation; that’s what being human is, most of the time. If you step back from it, even traumatic experiences, there are funny things that happen and I believe that. It’s an incredibly important aspect to every film.”

While the script does indulge in brainy exchanges—”In all candor, that kind of expository dialogue is just boring!” Farmiga admitted when speaking to some of the film’s challenges—the story unfolds with an unusual and charming measure of sincerity. Along with the entire cast, Gyllenhaal agrees that Source Code‘s earnestness is due in large to Jones’s direction and general mien. “Essentially, it’s a character story. There isn’t cynicism in it. I think it is a kind of spiritual. [Duncan] will hate that I say this, but he has a really big heart that I feel like he’s fascinated with details. It’s rare in a movie like this. I mean it’s rare that you see someone say, ‘I’m gonna go for it.'”

SOURCE CODE IS OUT NATIONWIDE ON APRIL 1.