Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), the gripping and mind-bending Source Code is a sci-fi, puzzle-box, action-thriller about a modern-day soldier named Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s being sent back in time into the last eight minutes of the mind of a man who died that morning in a bombing on a commuter train. So for eight minutes, over and over, Stevens is back in the body of the soon-to-be-dead commuter.
Michelle Monaghan plays Christina, an innocent commuter with whom Stevens begins to develop an emotional connection, even though he’s meeting her over and over eight minutes at a time–usually ending with her being killed by the train bomb. So while Stevens is aware of the space-time repetition, Christina is not–she simply lives out her last eight minutes anew each time.
Monaghan–who’s appeared in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mission: Impossible III, Due Date, and most impressively the indie film Trucker–sat down with me in Chicago this spring to talk about Source Code–about trying to create a character within the same scene over and over, and working with Duncan Jones.
What drew you to this project?
Michelle Monaghan: Science fiction isn’t something I’ve dabbled with in the past–it’s not something I jumped at the chance to go see in the movie theater, either. But I was really attracted to this script because I thought it was original and had weight–it had an ethical and moral dilemma and was infused with some real drama and some romance.
Source Code is so smart and layered. For some viewers it’s going to play as sci-fi, for some it’ll be an action thriller, for some it will be a metaphysical mind trip. What is the film about for you?
Monaghan: For me it’s about living life to the fullest. Also I was struck by the moral dilemma of the story: Do you sacrifice one life to save several thousand people? It’s really provocative and thought-provoking. And if you had eight minutes back to redo in your own life, what would you do differently? What would you say to someone? Would you sacrifice your own life?
You have a big job in the film–your character needs to provide almost all of its emotional core. How do you create that impact when you’re playing the same eight minutes over and over?
Monaghan: The audience really has to believe, has to want Christina to live, to want her and Stevens to be together. That’s why it was really important to create a back story for this person who really didn’t have one, so I could keep referring back to it in my own mind and build this character. Every day she takes the 8:20 train, sits across from the same guy she doesn’t really know, and isn’t living to her fullest potential.
As an actress, how did you deal with the repetition of the “source-code” scenes set in the past on the train?
Monaghan: When I initially read the script I was intrigued by the mystery and emotion behind it, but I was thinking how daunting it was, maybe even boring? But then I spoke to Duncan Jones about it, and we really wanted each version of the source-code scenes to be something unique and nuanced and different every time. That was the challenge and what I ultimately found most intriguing about the film—being be able to tell a story by going back and adding a little piece of the puzzle each time. That’s what made it really fun.
Did you chart out all the source-code scenes in terms of where the story and characters’ emotional arc were in each one?
Monaghan: Absolutely! We would huddle, Jake, Duncan and I, and figure out each of the source-code scenes–that was the actual labor-intensive part. For instance, the first source code scene we called “Hitchcock” because we wanted it to be mysterious. And we slowly figured it out for other scenes: “Okay, this is the ‘vulnerable’ one, this is the ‘angry’ one,” and so on. That’s how we were able to construct and follow the individual and overall story arcs.
Jones certainly proved with Moon that he’s very good at using deep science-fiction ideas to explore the human condition.
Monaghan: Exactly–he’s interested in humanity, in science fiction that’s character-driven. I thought, “Gosh, if I’m going to go for it with a science fiction project, I want to go on this endeavor with Duncan Jones–he’s a real visionary. I’d seen Moon, of course, and it was amazing. I thought, “He’s really young and cool.” And he didn’t disappoint–he was such a great collaborator.
Source Code is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from redbox.
More from the cast of Source Code at redbox:
- Jake Gyllenhaal in Love & Other Drugs and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (on DVD and Blu-ray)
- Michelle Monaghan in Due Date and Somewhere