Alfred Hitchcock was in his creative prime at the same time that science fiction became a force at the movies – both Strangers on a Train and The Day the Earth Stood Still came out in 1951. Yet Hitchcock and sci-fi never intersected. While aliens and giant atomic ants marched across the screen, Hitchcock continued to pursue largely domestic stories of psychological terror. If you consider that a missed opportunity – I would have liked to see Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Blob – don’t miss Source Code. It’s like the sci-fi flick Alfred Hitchcock never made.
Yes, it’s set on a train, but this thriller has plenty of other elements that will make a Hitchcock fan’s nerves tingle: the way Chris Bacon’s music echoes the jittery flourishes of Bernard Hermann’s classic scores; the way the narrative gingerly hop scotches around in order to stay a step ahead of us; the way identity holds the key to the central mystery. If only Michelle Monaghan was a blond.
Monaghan plays Christina Warren, the young woman whose face greets Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) when he wakes up on a train bound for Chicago. He doesn’t know her, but she seems to know him. Except that she calls him by a different name.
Colter eventually gets his bearings, but I’d hate to reveal too much of what he learns. I’ll only say that he discovers he’s part of an experimental, anti-terror initiative that involves assumed identities, virtual reality and (as if that weren’t enough) the unprecedented manipulation of time.
As in his unsettling debut, Moon, director Duncan Jones focuses on the existential anguish of an isolated man. In Moon, Sam Rockwell played a lunar explorer who may (or may not be) losing his mind at the end of a three-year solo stint. Here, Gyllennhaal’s Colter opens the movie in a state of indescribable loneliness. Who, exactly, is he? Where did he come from? Whom can he trust?
Hitchcock explored those questions too. (What character in his oeuvre didn’t have identity issues?) If Jones doesn’t quite display Hitchcock’s precision and discipline – Source Code ends on a vague, feel-good note – he does have the master’s knack for exploiting uncertainty in an audience. The interweaving of sci-fi elements is a bonus.