Source Code was the opening night premiere movie of SXSW and I got to interview three of the key players in Austin. The Friday everyone can relive the eight minutes Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) relives on a doomed train so he can find out who bombed it.
Moon writer/director Duncan Jones directed Source Code, this time from a script by Ben Ripley. The idea of connecting to the eight minute memory of deceased terrorism victims still seems like the kind of highbrow science fiction in which Jones specializes. Jones also happily gave some spoilers, easter eggs for time travel fans to watch for, but wait until you’ve seen the movie if you want them to be a surprise.
Q: Do you see the connection between Moon and Source Code as intelligent sci-fi that doesn’t condescend to the audience?
Duncan Jones: I think Inception really is the obvious, had to say that one. Inception has kind of opened the floodgates a little bit. Mine was a little tiny film. I think District 9 did an amazing job of both visually and in some ways intellectually stimulating the audience but Inception has really proven that there is an audience out there for films that really challenge the audience to work out what the hell is going on at times. I think that’s going to open up some opportunities for some kinds of sci-fi that haven’t been made since maybe the ‘70s. I think it’s a good thing.
Q: Were you a “Quantum Leap” fan?
DJ: Did you pick up on the voice I am a “Quantum Leap” fan. I did notice the similarities when I was reading the script and I don’t know if you were going to say, but the voice of Colter’s father is relevant in bringing up “Quantum Leap.”
Q: I totally missed that. I was asking because of the mirror reflection.
DJ: It is. Scott Bakula is the voice of Colter’s father. In fact, if you get the chance to watch it a second time, you’ll notice he does actually say, “Oh boy.” You can tell [your readers] that and you can even say that you realized that.
Q: Are we supposed to debate the ending or is it definitive?
DJ: It’s definitive to me. I am more than happy to see what the reaction is and see what people’s interpretations are but I feel very comfortable I know what’s going on. I think there is a real head scratcher for the audience at the end there and I think it involves where our main protagonist has ended up and what the implications of that actually are.
Q: The questions about your father, David Bowie, and legacy were covered for Moon. My only question is were you a Labyrinth fan growing up?
DJ: I’ll tell you what. It was difficult to separate myself as my dad’s son watching that film, so watching the film was not as enjoyable as being there while it was being made because I was actually on the set while they were making Labyrinth. That to me was the extraordinary experience and the thing that did stick with me and change me.
Q: Were you there for the Helping Hands?
DJ: Oh, I was there for the Helping Hands. I was also there for the goblin village. I think to me the most exciting thing was the actual all-embracing set. It’s like my favorite thing about Blade Runner, the idea that you could leave the characters, you could pan the camera off the characters and you’d feel like you were still in that world. On the Labyrinth set, I was in a world where they were shooting that way but there was still this huge goblin village over here and stuff over here. You really felt like you were in that world.
Q: Just off Moon, you could probably get a budget of at least $10 million for a reasonable second feature. Is Mute too ambitious for that type of budget?
DJ: I think so. I think Mute would’ve been more comfortable in the same kind of budget as Source Code was, but I have lived with it for such a long time and I have such strong feelings about how to do it right that at this stage, I don’t want to take any shortcuts. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right and that means I have to be patient. I have to wait and I have something else I’m working on which I know I can get made and I feel very excited about. I think by making it a graphic novel, I can probably expand on certain things which I had never intended to expand on as a first feature film
Q: When you say “can get made next,” what are the elements that make you think that?
DJ: My producer and I have been realistic about both tonally and character-wise what is needed in order to find people who are willing to invest both as performers and financially to get the film made, but still do it in such a way that I feel that it’s worth making. It’s a story that I want to tell.
Michelle Monaghan plays Christine, a woman on the train sitting across from Colter when he wakes up in the body of Sean Fentriss. She replays the train scene seven times, a little differently each time Colter tries to fix things. She was almost on her way out of Austin to catch a plane when we spoke.
Q: Was it your job to bring the reality to this outrageous sci-fi concept?
Michelle Monaghan: I think so. I think that’s sort of the heart. I think it was my job and Vera’s job because Vera’s really conflicted. She’s morally conflicted obviously and I think really the heart of the matter is really about living your life to the fullest. I think that’s what Christine is conflicted with in her own life.
Q: Is the film saying that even if none of these changes last, it’s still worth making it better for 8 minutes?
MM: Yeah, I think. Yeah, because I think that’s life. We all do things that may not last but hopefully they inspire other people and they pay it forward. I think absolutely, I totally agree. Good will lingers.
Q: I first spoke to you for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. What has this ride been like for you?
MM: Oh my gosh, it’s so amazing. That was one of the best experience I’ve ever had. It was just a great film. I still love it to this day and I’m good friends with Shane and Robert and Val still. I just had a really good run and I’m really grateful. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great filmmakers. I’m really proud of the films I’ve been in and I just want to continue to do films that are big and small.
Q: That’s what you’ve done.
MM: Yeah, it’s important to me. Nowadays it’s really tricky to find a good story, a story that’s compelling with really rich, colorful characters that are really reflective of true life. I find that the meat of that is in independent film. So as long as we keep getting festivals like this to appreciate and honor independent films, wow, by god, I’ll still be doing them.
Vera Farmiga is on the other side of the source code. Every time Colter returns to present day, Goodwyn (Farmiga) is debriefing him for intel. Colter’s not the most cooperative soldier either, and Goodwyn can’t really explain exactly what he’s doing going back in time for eight minute increments.
Q: What was your take on the dilemma of motivating Colter when you couldn’t explain what he was involved in?
Vera Farmiga: I think keeping in mind the urgency of the situation and urgency of the task at hand, which is life saving and preventing catastrophe. The frustration, that’s where it comes from, keeping in mind the urgency of what’s going on. It’s called parenting.
Q: Does Source Code deal with faith in a way like you dealt with in Higher Ground?
VF: Well, to me there’s a lonesomeness in this, stuck in space and time and this loneliness where that might echo Higher Ground in a way that when doubt enters the faith equation, you’re in limbo. In that respect, I feel like Colter is a man who’s lost in knowing who exactly he is. He’s in limbo. He’s lost.
Q: Do you agree with the worldview that even if these eight minutes won’t matter, we should make them the best eight minutes we can?
VF: Sure, and I think that was the note the film left me on upon the first reading really was a reminder to cherish everything that is most dear to you in your life and to acknowledge it, be present and not take it for granted and treasure those things.
Q: Who is Goodwyn when she’s off work?
VF: Yeah, we’re clued into the fact that she has a marriage that expired, that didn’t work. You have to suppose that she’s married to her job and thus is probably a very lonesome person. Honestly, I don’t necessarily think that whether you think of her as someone with children, I don’t know if any of that is imperative to the dynamic between her and Colter and the mission and what the story is. We decided that she was someone who just is consumed with work and that when career comes first, oftentimes it’s a pretty lonely existence. More often than not, if you’re career minded you’re coming home to an empty house and I think that’s why connections with her are life changing.
Source Code hits theaters Friday.