First published on 17 Jul 2012. Updated on 17 Jul 2012.
Listening to Duncan Jones as he talks about his fast-paced cerebral thriller Source Code, it's striking how comfortable the 39-year-old British director is with the heady ideas that inform the best science-fiction films. The context in which he made his second film was radically different from his debut feature, the US$5 million space oddity Moon, but the same challenging thoughts about time and identity inform both.
Moon was an indie labour of love starring only Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey's voice; Source Code, while not a full-blown Hollywood studio film, is a sci-fi inflected thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. "There's obviously a huge difference between making a small indie and directing a film with so much more money at stake," says Jones, who graduated from the London Film School after studying philosophy in the US. (His dad, of course, is David Bowie, and Jones spent a lot of time when promoting Moon fielding questions about his famous father.)
It was Gyllenhaal, an admirer of Moon, who suggested that producer Mark Gordon should bring Jones on board. Jones was won over by the potential of Ben Ripley's fast-paced, non-linear screenplay. Army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train bound for Chicago. He is sitting opposite Christina (Monaghan), a friendly woman who seems to know him, but has no idea of how he got there. Confused and disoriented, he stumbles into the bathroom, where the face he sees in the mirror is not his own.
Jones is something of a science-fiction geek so he had no real problem with this time-shift premise. He did, however, feel that it needed a little lightening up. "To wrap your head around the conceit behind Ben Ripley's script takes some doing. But I thought that if we dedicated too much time to the science, it would detract from the film's rip-roaring ride. So the rewriting I did was mostly to do with the tone. My suggestion to Ben was to try to inject some romance and humour."
Jones says he's in talks to make a third sci-fi movie, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't like to try his hand with other material. "After the next film, I hope to take a little bit of a genre sabbatical. Hopefully that same audience will be interested in seeing how I tackle other kinds of films."
Source Code screens from Thu 5 May 2011.