Between two worlds

27 August 2013

I got round to watching Source Code, Duncan Jones’ second film, on a TV re-run recently. It tells the story of a man sent back in time to work out who planted a bomb on a commuter train – the same eight minutes, almost, over and over, until he gets to the bottom of the mystery.

Shades immediately of Groundhog Day, although Bill Murray’s weatherman had all the time in the world to get himself straightened out – enough time to learn how to play the piano, master ice skating, and to stop being a curmudgeon.

But the film that Source Code reminded me of at least as strongly is the Powell and Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death [AMOLAD]. And I know, by the way, that I’m not the first person to notice this.

Some of the references are clearly there, even without spoiling the plot of Source Code.

The epigraph at the start of AMOLAD is,

“This is the story of two worlds, the one we know and the other which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life & imagination have been violently shaped by war”.

Source Code tells the story of an airman (a helicopter pilot, Colter Stevens) who is similarly caught between two worlds, one real, one a simulation that might, indeed, exist only in his mind.

There’s also a visual and narrative match, between Goodwin, the operator in Source Code who is the link between Stevens and his two worlds, and June, the wireless operator in AMOLAD, who links the two worlds straddled by its bomber pilot, Peter Carter, after bailing from his burning plane. There are some script echoes as well.

The films share a pervasive sense of rules being broken, of the boundaries between the two worlds being negotiated, although in A Matter of Life and Death this is a far more formal negotiation, through the great set-piece of the courtroom.

It would be a spoiler for both films to extend the comparison to their endings. Does Stevens cheat death? Does Squadron Leader Carter? In both films, in their different ways, the women are the key. But go watch the films. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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