Synopsis: Guy with amnesia wakes up on a train. The train may or may not be a target in a terrorist attack. Sci-fi.
About: Source Code is very much like the Denzel Washington vehicle “Deja-Vu”. But, you know, actually good.
Writer: Ben Ripley
Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. I absolutely freaking LOVED this script. Loved it x a million. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. But sci-fi that makes you *feel*? I’m so down.
Source Code is about a guy who wakes up on a train, having no memory or idea how he got there. He stumbles around, observes the other passengers, trying to find something, anything, to remind him why he’s here. And then…the train BLOWS UP. Our main character is dead. Boom. Welcome to Source Code.
Moments later we wake up in a strange lab only to realize that, a la Deja Vu (a way inferior movie), our main character is actually being sent back in time digitally 3 hours prior to find out who blew up the train. Before he can process this, he’s sent back again, to the exact same moment where the movie started. He has 17 minutes to find out who’s responsible before the train blows up again. Confused and disoriented he starts to study the passengers one more time. Which ones look suspicious, which ones look innocent, all the while trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing on this train. 17 minutes later – BOOM! The train blows up. Time to start over again.
Obviously, we’ve seen this structure before in movies like Vantage Point and Run Lola Run. You know, where you keep going back to the beginning of the same experience. I’ve come to dislike this structure and here’s why: The story’s never moving forward. You’re stuck in neutral. I tolerated it with Run Lola Run because it was a visual experience. And even though Vantage Point introduces you to a new character every time we back up, it still feels like we’re going nowhere. I remember the groans from the audience the third, fourth, and fifth time we went backwards in that movie.
But Source Code never gets old. There are a couple of key devices the writer uses to keep us interested. First, he creates an extremely likable female character. She sits across from the seat our hero is always warped into. And so amidst all this terrorism chaos, you’re intrigued by their relationship. Each time, he learns a little bit more about her. And the more we learn about her, the more we like her. It gets to the point where he actually reveals to her what’s going on. She, of course, thinks he’s crazy (wouldn’t you?). But because of the incremental information he gains each time through, he’s eventually able to convince her. And yet each time, she dies, so when he goes back in again, he has to start all over again. A “serious” take on the Groundhog Day premise. And because you know that this moment doesn’t exist anymore, that she’s already dead no matter what he does, it becomes this tragic love story. How can he save someone who’s already dead? His orders are to look for evidence so they can stop the terrorists. But all he wants to do is save this girl. To save everyone on this doomed train. He simply refuses to accept that he can’t do anything.
The second thing the writer does that Deja Vu did NOT do (a great screenwriting tip to keep in mind), is create a story outside the virtual train ride whereby the terrorists who struck the train (that morning) promised to strike 3 more times throughout New York that day. Which puts an amazing amount of pressure on our protag to find out who did this so they can prevent the subsequent terrorist attacks from happening. This works great. I thought about the movie had this device not been used and realized it wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting (if at all).
I can’t stress how perfectly executed this script was. No scene was wasted. Everything was go go go. I have no doubt that the similarities to Deja Vu have thrown the chances of this thing ever getting into production into jeopardy. But let me make a plea to whoever owns this property: MAKE THIS MOVIE. Cast an up and coming actor. There are only a few locations. Very cheap to make. Then spend a ton on marketing. It will open with 10 mil but word of mouth will carry it. This can be a sci-fi classic.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
What I learned from Source Code: Increase the tension and stakes of your action script by adding an impending “time bomb” (in this case three potentially devastating terrorist attacks). The critical difference between what made Deja Vu stupid, and Source Code awesome.