Stuck In a Loop
♦February 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Tripwire, which began as a print magazine back in 1992. So every day this month, we shall be representing a classic interview or feature from our long history. Today’s throwback is our Source Code feature from our short-lived Tripwire app in 2013.
Moon took everyone by surprise. When it came out in 2009, this smart sci-fi movie, directed by a man who turned out to be David Bowie’s son, perhaps showed the future of science-fiction on the big screen.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Jones’ second feature, Source Code, is about to hit cinemas. We spoke to the film’s screenwriter Ben Ripley, director Duncan Jones and its star Jake Gyllenhaal to find out more…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of the idea for Source Code?
Ben Ripley: The germ of the idea for Source Code came from my desire to tell a non-linear story like Groundhog Day, like Sliding Doors but with a science-fiction twist within the confines of a thriller where the story became very propulsive. We looked at Run, Lola Run a lot and what made those things worth watching is the idea of re-accessing experience again and again and again and learning from it. I think the audience can really get on board when they start expecting things and the whole idea of him dying after 8 minutes of time meant that there was a harsh limit on the information he was able to collect. So that was the inspiration but it was a long journey to find all those elements that finally clicked into place.
TW: What is the Source Code?
BR: At its fundamental core, the definition of Source Code is the ability to access an after-image of the brain that lasts for 8 minutes in a parallel world and through another identity.
TW: How did you pitch the idea?
BR: It was a huge challenge to pitch this idea. In fact I didn’t pitch the idea. I had to write it out as a script first and discover it for myself over the course of many, many drafts before anybody else could discover it. So it took a long time to boil it down to a very simple story about a soldier who wakes up on a train and dies after 8 minutes and then does so again and again. So the movie on one level is a thriller, and on another level it’s a character mystery. It’s a chamber piece.
TW: How did Duncan Jones approach bringing your script to the big screen?
BR: If you look at what Duncan does, he is relentlessly in the point of view of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. It is his experience on the train, back in the isolation unit, back and forth by switching those two worlds but staying on his character and keeping it about character and keeping it intimate that lets you experience that story. The Jake Gyllenhaal character is the through-line to that story and Duncan knew that and he doesn’t get distracted by it.
TW: How did you get attached to Source Code?
DUNCAN JONES: I met up with Jake [Gyllenhaal] a while ago before I saw the script. He said ‘There’s this great script that I’ve been reading. I’d love you to have a look at it.’ And I did read it and thought ‘Wow, that’s a lot of claustrophobic environments’. I had just come off the back of Moon, which was very much a claustrophobic environment, so I could see why they wanted me. But it occurred to me, that the beauty of the script without revealing too much was that there was a constant exploration, that there were new things going on each time our main character Colter enters this repetition that occurs in the film. So there’s always something new going on and that was the challenge really. How do you make each of these new repetitions fresh and give the audience something new that’s going to keep them engaged?
TW: Once you were onboard, how did you approach making it?
DJ: I had one set of ideas of what we could do with it and Jake wanted to try some things as well. So we had a very good collaborative relationship. We ended up addings a lot more humour. There’s a lot more tongue-in-cheek humour in the film than was originally on the page of the script. I think that mixing humour and the more science fiction elements of this thriller — it’s a contemporary thriller but there are definitely science fiction elements — we pulled something together which was quite appealing. The audience isn’t going to get bogged down in the logic or the science of it all. I think they’ll just be going along for the ride.
TW: What was the appeal of casting Jake in the main role?
DJ: I’m a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. I think he’s a tremendous actor. To work with him was a real opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up. And the script was tight. It was a good strong fast-moving script and I loved the fact that there was no lethargy in it. It just got on with the story.
TW: How does his character develop over the movie?
DJ: He starts off in a place where he doesn’t know what’s going on and by the end of it he’s become master of his own world. I think that growth, that evolution over the course of the film was fun because things go wrong sometimes, sometimes things go wrong spontaneously and he realizes that he has the ability to control this and it just made for a fun experience.
TW: How did you find shooting Source Code?
DJ: We built this amazing train carriage which doubled for different parts of the train over the course of the shoot. It was this beautiful thing but it was a bit of a monster really because shooting in that environment became somewhat limiting at times. And the personality of the film almost came out of the necessities of how we had to shoot it as opposed to the other way around. Sometimes when you’re shooting, you can impose your style on your location or on your set. But in this case it was really the set that imposed the style on us.
TW: What can you tell us about the plot?
DJ: Captain Colter Stevens finds himself waking up on a commuter train heading into Chicago. He doesn’t know how he got there and he finds that everyone else in the environment seems to know who he is but it’s not who he thinks he is. And then the story begins.
We wanted to make the film about relationships. It’s about Colter and Christina and Colter and Goodwin. I guess that’s where my interest in the script really lies. It’s about relationships and people and the fact that I want to show how people bond. I think that’s something that I find very interesting and I think that’s what we do in the film.
I’m not embarrassed to say that we borrowed liberally from Hitchcock in parts of the film. There are certainly some shots there to which you might raise an eyebrow. I think it does have a very Hitchcockian feel but at the same time, there is this whole new wave of films coming out which are more challenging science fiction, which I feel we are part of that wave.
TW: Source Code also has two pivotal female characters, Goodwin and Christina Warren. How did Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga get picked?
DJ: Jake and I got on very well and started talking about how it could work and who we might want. I suggested Michelle Monaghan, having seen her in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a film by Shane Black, who’s a friend of mine. So I talked to Shane, who said how wonderful she was to work with and how much fun he’d had with her.
One of the beauties of working with Vera Farmiga is there’s so much going on in her face. She’s so able to communicate with the subtlest gestures and she used this ability in our film. I’m so grateful because there isn’t a huge amount of flexibility in where she can go or what she can do or props she can draw on.
TW: With the film hitting cinemas, what reaction do you hope you’ll elicit in audiences?
DJ: At the end of the film, if half of the audience comes away satisfied with the love story and the experience of the action and the other half are baffling over the ending but enjoying trying to work out the ending, then I’ll be very satisfied. Because I think there’s enough there to keep you engaged on an action and romance level and there’s definitely something to think about at the end of the film if you are of that disposition and you enjoy those kind of puzzles, but not enough to frustrate you. That was the balancing act. Something to keep you interested and make you think but at the same time not leave you frustrated.
TW: What attracted you to working with Duncan Jones?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL: I just thought Moon was stunning from the first frame to the last. When you watch a movie, you can know from the first few minutes whether or not the filmmaker is talented. It was so clear that Duncan was fluent in the language of film. His ability was so agile in the story he was telling that I immediately wanted to work with him after watching two to three minutes of the movie Moon.
TW: How different is Source Code
to Moon from a central character’s perspective?
JG: The sense of somebody who’s in a situation that at first they’re very lost and they have to find their way through it and discover why they are there, what they’re there for, who put them there. Ultimately there’s an act, not of revenge but there’s a little payback for the people who may have put somebody in a position where they were powerless to get their power back by the end. And that character is my character in this movie and I guess in Moon, Sam Rockwell’s character in a way does the same thing.
TW: What was the appeal for you as an actor to sign up?
JG: I’m fascinated by time, I’m fascinated by the order of time and if there is any order in time. And working with someone like Duncan who has put so much brain work into it that I feel confident when I decide to do a take that’s a little bit more off the rails.
TW: Can you reveal a little bit about the character you play and its plot?
JG: I play Captain Colter Stevens who flies Blackhawk helicopters for the army and who finds himself on a train one morning, not knowing where he is. He is sitting across from this woman, Christina who is acting and talking as if she knows him but he doesn’t know who she is. He’s pretty disoriented and doesn’t know how he’s got where’s he’s gotten to. At the time he’s trying to explain to this woman that he doesn’t know who she is, a freight train passes by in the opposite direction and in the reflection of the window, he can see that when he looks at his face, it’s not his face. Or he thinks it’s not his face so he goes into the bathroom to confirm it. And he realizes that it’s not him, it’s somebody else.
TW: What makes Duncan Jones different to his contemporaries?
JG: In a day and age when the visuals and the visual work is the most important thing to a lot of people, I think he’s just still obsessed with storytelling and watching human moments. That is rare in someone his age who is doing what he’s doing, particularly doing it the cool way he does it in terms of the visuals.
TW: How different is Source Code when compared with Moon?
JG: We found that this movie is incredibly funny and a lot of the moments that, when you read the script, seem serious turned out to be really funny. So we found ourselves laughing all the time, which whenever you’re making a movie, that kind of energy definitely goes into the final product. The difference between Moon and this movie is that there is a real sense of humour along the way. This is what Colter finds himself in is so outlandish, so sometimes the only respite for him and for the audience is a sense of humour.