Interview: Duncan Jones From ‘Source Code’

Atlanta got to check out Duncan Jones’ new film Source Code early last month. The film, which hits theaters today, was a huge hit with audiences here, and lucky for us – Duncan Jones was actually on hand to clear up any confusion the film’s ending may have caused. After you see the film, there are plenty of questions to be asked, but we don’t want to spoil too much for you, so you’ll need to highlight the spoiler material towards the bottom – otherwise you won’t see it.

Source Code tells the story of a helicopter pilot, Colter, who finds himself on a rather odd mission. Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes to find himself on a speeding commuter train. He has no idea how got there, or why when he looks in the mirror he sees someone other than himself. Eight minutes later, he is dead…. or is he? Colter wakes up in a high tech isolation unit where he is informed that he is actually reliving the last eight minutes of someone else’s life in order to find out who planted the bomb – the source of the explosion which killed him at the end of the eight minutes. Colter must keep reliving these eight minutes until he can find enough clues to help figure out who is responsible.

If you’re not familiar with Duncan Jones, you should be. He directed a movie that has a cult following called Moon back in 2009. Source Code is his sophomore project, and he’s already has several additional projects he is planning out, including Mute which Jones revealed to us will be made into a graphic novel first. He admitted he was actually having a hard time convincing an actor to sign onto the project as the lead character doesn’t actually say anything throughout the entire film. And an interesting piece of trivia for you, Duncan Jones is actually the son of David Bowie.

It was the day following the screening in which I was able to sit down with Duncan Jones and some other members of the Atlanta press. As our round table got started one of the first things I wanted to ask him about was something that he had commented on the night before. There’s a scene in the film in which Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Colter, jumps out of the train when it is in motion. And it’s not an easy jump to make! Jones had commented saying that he was actually inspired by a scene from Grand Theft Auto where the character jumps out of a moving vehicle and rolls. But was that scene originally in the script?

“The scene was in there, and it was really really mundane. He pulls the emergency cord, the train comes to a stop, and he gets off. Dramatically, it’s difficult to make anything of that. So we kind of upped it a little bit. Put a little goose on it.” Jones smirks, “It was so much fun for me. There were a few scenes in the movie where I was able to play with the big boys and get some big toys in there. Because it was a middle budget film, like Moon, we had to choose those moments. We couldn’t just do the whole film like that. That scene was a moment where I thought this is an opportunity to really have some fun and make a tribute to computer games, because the film does by its very nature have that idea of playing a character and having to constantly die until you get the mission right. And I wanted to do that shot. No one has ever done that shot before.”

Moving on and taking a look at the script, one might notice that there is a similar theme in both Moon and Source Code. There is a clear isolation of the protagonist, and fans had to wonder…. was that something that had attracted Jones to the script? Is that a theme that he’ll continue to explore?

“I think that’s bit of a coincidence. The thing that appealed to me about the script for Source Code was the differences, not the similarities. The scope and the pace of it, the opportunity to work with Jake… On a subconscious level, I’m sure part of what made me say yes was recognition that there was something there that I found interesting on a different level. The idea of identity… I think that there was definitely something there, but it wasn’t a subconscious choice.”

One area where Moon and Source Code clearly differed though was the size of the projects. Moon was a small film in many ways, whereas Source Code is more your Hollywood blockbuster. How did that transition go for Jones, and was he able to bring anything that he had learned from Moon to this project?

“Well, I brought my producer. It was a massively important thing to do. Coming from an independent foreign film to coming over here and throwing yourself into the mix of Hollywood producers and better-known actors, I think I could have easily been pushed around. I had three people really working in my favor. I brought my producer from Moon. We used to do commercials together, so we’ve worked together for a really long time – I knew he had my back. And I also had Jake on my side. Jake was the one who wanted me to direct the film. There was a lot of responsibility on his shoulders with the producers for me being the director. So I think he felt a real obligation to stick up for me, because we were in agreement. We had a shared vision of what we wanted to do. The third person was Paul Hirsch, and I don’t know if you know Paul or not, but he was the editor of the film. He’s a legend in Hollywood. He edited Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and he won an Oscar for Ray – he really is one of the guys in Hollywood.” Jones explained.

During the middle of our interview with Jones, he got a text message and it was Gyllenhaal asking, “How goes it dude.” We all had a good laugh, and Jones had nothing but great things to say about Gyllenhaal and his experience working with him.

Source Code fits in with other films that play with your mind, such as Inception. After seeing the film, you’re left with a lot to converse with your friends about, which was one of the things I really loved about this film. I asked Jones if he thought there was going to be more “brainy” type sci-fi movies coming out as compared to the big robot style sci-fi (Coughs *Battle LA*)?

“I think off the back of Inception, all things are possible.” Jones laughed, “It’s tricky. I think Source Code is unique in that it is in this mid-budget area, and it does tackle something, I would argue, is fairly original. Certainly more thought provoking than it could have otherwise been done. Now whether other films in that budget range will make that kind of commitment, I don’t know. I think on the indie level, you can certainly do it, and that already happens. On the big budget level, not so much. Unless a guy like Chris Nolan says that’s the kind of movie I want to make. So I don’t know if it’s really affected anything, but I think that any director that is at that level can make that happen if they choose to make that happen.”

Spoiler Alert Below – Highlight To Read!!

Jones had mentioned at the screening the night before was that it was Jake Gyllenhaal who first brought him the script several years back when Jones was trying to convince him to do Mute. When Jones first read the script he admitted that the ending left too many questions unanswered, so he tweaked things a little bit so that us sci-fans would be more satisfied.

“It had a very sweet, romantic ending originally. But for me, it just felt like there were too many questions left hanging. In the original ending, Colter is successful in the mission, he’s with the girl, the end.” Jones explained, “But I’m thinking, I’m a sci-fi geek, so what does all this mean?”

So Jones felt he had a few loose threads to tie up, including what actually happened to Sean, the person whose body Colter is living these eight minutes over and over in.

“There’s also the question of what happened to Sean, which is more of an ethical issue. And I think that really would sort of sour the whole piece if I were to say, ‘Oh by making this decision, Colter has killed Sean.'” Jones laughed, “But that’s the nature of the script.”

End of Spoiler Alert !!

One of the things that I personally loved about the film was that there is a concrete ending here which still provokes thought. It’s not an ending in which you’re left to draw your own conclusions as so many films have been in the last year (Inception, Black Swan, etc..). Jones talks openly about the ending and explains everything as best he can. So we have answers, yet we still are able to debate with our friends about the parallel universes and what is all really happening. I commend Jones for making a film that was completely satisfying yet also thought provoking.

So to sum it up, Source Code is a great film, and a superb second film for Duncan Jones. Definitely hit the theaters this weekend to check it out, and be sure to let us know your thoughts.

Movie Grade: A-

Interview/Article/Review By: Emma Loggins

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  1. Thanks for the nice write up Emma. I’m looking forward to this one. And no, I couldn’t read the spoiler….yet. 🙂 Will view it again AFTER I’ve seen the movie.

  2. Yeah I wanted to include it because I think after you see it you’re going to have some questions – and what I have up there will clear them up for you 🙂 So just refer back if you need to! haha 🙂 It’s a great movie!

  3. I know….better late than never. I got to see Source Code in the theater yesterday. And good thing…they were yanking already. I should have bought another ticket and watched it again at a later showing…just so I could completely understand the whole thing!! So I read the “spoiler” Emma. Guess I still have questions until I see again. Maybe you’ll have another great giveaway down the road where I can enter for the movie and watch it over and over…haha. But again, I really enjoyed it. Can’t wait to see it again.

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