Jake Gyllenhaal Fully Embraced His Isolation On The Source Code Set

Duncan Jones' "Source Code" holds the bragging rights for beating the recent slate of multiverse films by more than a decade. The 2011 movie, for those who are not familiar, centers on Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a U.S. Army pilot who is tasked with uncovering the identity of the terrorist behind the bombing of a Chicago commuter train. In order to do that, Colter accesses the Source Code, a newfangled invention that recreates the events on the train eight minutes prior to the bomb's detonation using the memories of the dead passengers.

If you think that's a lot to digest, you'd best get strapped in.

Upon entering the Source Code, Colter wakes up in the body of Sean Fentress (Frédérick De Grandpré), a modest school teacher who's traveling — and flirting — with a friend named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). Does Sean's mind cease to exist when Colton shows up? Is the Source Code a simulation or secretly a machine that accesses alternate realities? I won't reveal if the film ever answers these questions, but for most of its runtime, "Source Code" certainly plays like a multiverse movie crossed with an Agatha Christie-style whodunit set on a moving vehicle.

This is also what sets Jones' movie apart from time loop films in the vein of "Groundhog Day" or even Tony Scott's 2006 time-travel thriller "Déjà Vu" (which shares a number of key plot points). "Source Code" is a movie that explores how getting to experience alternate lives might impact a person's sense of self and identity, itself a core element of so many recent multiverse sagas. This no doubt made it a trippy film for its actors to star in, too, not least of all Gyllenhaal, given how many of his scenes he shot all alone.

'Just me in the pod'

As he closes in on the bomber, Colton gradually uncovers the upsetting truth: He was nearly killed on a mission two months prior and is now on permanent life support outside of the Source Code, with most of his physical body gone. In order to make this easier for him to process, Colter's mind projects an image of himself prior to his mission in a sealed pod. His only link to the outside world is a video screen that allows him to speak to Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the duo in charge of operating the Source Code.

In a 2011 interview with Film School Rejects to promote the film's premiere at that year's South by Southwest Film Festival, Gyllenhaal confirmed he did, in fact, shoot these scenes in isolation on the "Source Code" set. Far from a hindrance, he said he felt this approach was beneficial to his performance:

"Just me in the pod. It was so much fun. I actually am an actor that feels most comfortable on stage, and to me it felt very much like a... we would place things out six, seven days each scene on one take. I have a harder time doing little pieces. I have a much easier time one whole take."

Gyllenhaal continued, explaining that someone would either read the other actors' lines to him through a speaker or "act out a variation" of what Farmiga and Wright's characters would be saying. Even the video screen in the pod was actually a green screen replaced in post-production. "[It] offered me endless possibilities, and opportunities, and choices. There are takes in our movie that are just crazy, and I love that. I loved it," Gyllenhaal added.

More questions than answers

In terms of related genre films from the early 2010s, "Source Code" is closer to "Looper" than "Inception" when it comes to explaining the mechanics of how its mind-bending sci-fi tech even works. It also lacks the depth of recent multiverse movies like "Everything Everywhere All at Once," so far as its examination of identity goes. But while it may be guilty of raising more questions than it answers, "Source Code" makes up for it by being a taut, nimble thriller where the stakes are always clear and the core mystery is intriguing enough to preoccupy your mind for most of its 93-minute runtime.

According to Gyllenhaal, the questions in the film didn't begin and end with Ben Ripley's script, either:

"... Nothing was written where I look up and there's a window because the production designer put a window up there, obviously for light. But as soon as you put a window, there's a huge question. So how do you answer that question? Well, you know, I look up there and what's up there? We have an entire take where I am up there trying to find out what's up there. We do it for a little bit and the editor, she's brilliant, asked that question and we answered it."

Far from a defect, Gyllenhaal sees the lack of certain answers in "Source Code" as one of the film's greatest strengths. "I don't know, the whole movie's so fun because it's full of questions all the time," he added.