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Opening night at SXSW kicked off with its usual unfettered enthusiasm. The elegant Paramount Theatre, the regular venue for high-profile premieres, had lines around and down each block as Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones worked their way inside to introduce Source Code.
Jones, who brought his debut film Moon here in 2009, seemed especially giddy, dressed appropriately for Austin’s low-key vibe in a T-shirt and torn jeans. As he was talking to reporters outside the theater, the fake Indian guru of Kumare, a film competing in the documentary category, pulled up in a bicycle taxi and tried to walk the carpet himself. Since it was clearly a stunt, the guru and his entourage were gently rebuffed by SXSW publicity maestro Rebecca Feferman.
The film itself turned out to be better than I thought it would be. I’m drawn to these kinds of mind-bending movies but often end up disappointed when the writer and director can’t sustain their cool idea for the length of the film. Despite a plot that requires footage to be replayed a number of times, Ripley and Jones keep a surprising amount of tension through to the end and continue to find new angles to explore within the central concept. As a result, while the film isn’t strong in all areas, it keeps your attention throughout and carries some heavy ideas about sacrifice and choice all the way to the end. (Check out my Q&A with producer Mark Gordon for more on that.)
Check out Kirk Honeycutt’s review for plot description, but when I asked Ripley during the post-screening Q&A where the central concept came from he said that it sprung from thinking about movies such as Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors and Rashomon. Ultimately, he threw in a terrorism plot and some theoretical physics about parallel worlds to create “a time-travel movie that wasn’t about changing the past.”
For his part, Gyllenhaal talked about some of the philosophical implications he drew from the story, which he said finds a metaphorical way to explore “the little births and deaths we experience every day.” Some audience members certainly walked away with questions about the implications of the ending (as well as the mechanics and logic of the plot), but response was generally positive, proving that when the storytelling is novel and intriguing not all of the pieces need to make perfect sense.
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