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This Bright Flash: Chronicle and Source Code

For many of us, the way we see the world relies on a belief that all the mysteries are eventually knowable. Many of our ontologies hinge on the fact that all will one day be revealed, or that we’ll at least get a glimpse at what’s really going on as we move through this life, that it’s not all just some “lattice of coincidence,” as Miller explained it in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984; scene embedded below). Our being is bound by time and space, and untethering it from its temporal and spatial planes requires knowledge from somewhere else.

Somewhere between the teen-angst-with-superpowers of Jumper (2008), the camera-as-character of Cloverfield (2008), and the amazing invention / discovery that drives a wedge between friends in Primer (2004), Chronicle tests the bounds of the human and the bonds between them. As a movie, it’s also not quite like any of these. “It’s the most human superhero movie you will ever see,” Dane DeHaan (who plays Chronicle‘s primary concern, Andrew Detmer) told Fox’s Film File, and that gets at one reason the movie is so compelling.

The Crush: Andrew Detmer

Set in my beloved Seattle (though obviously filmed elsewhere), Chronicle tells the tale of three high school friends of various social status who find something that gives them the mental abilities to move matter. It doesn’t take them long to realize how powerful this makes them and how much stronger they can get. This is all fine and fun until the downtrodden Andrew (e.g., abusive, alcoholic father, terminally ill mother, no friends, bullied at school, etc.) begins to exact revenge on his familiar foes and becomes punch-drunk with power, claiming to be an “apex predator.” His cousin Matt Garrety (second of the three, played by Alex Russell) attempts to mediate the madness, to no avail. Michael B. Jordan, who plays the gregarious Steve Montgomery and third of the affected, main characters, previously lit up the small screen on The Wire and Friday Night Lights. His megawatt on-screen presence alone powers much of the pace of this movie. By the time he is gone, Andrew has lost control and sent the plot over the edge.

For all the things that one could do with telekinesis, the film shows remarkable restraint. Sure, the boys go flying in the clouds and nearly get hit by an airplane, move cars around parking lots, give girls sensations heretofore unfelt, and totally own their school’s talent show, but when things get really bad, it’s restraint — theirs and the film’s writing/directing team, Max Landis and Josh Trank — that saves the day. The trailer probably gives away more than it needs to, but there’s plenty to discover in Chronicle, enough that I’m anxious for the DVD release and subsequent repeated viewings.

Send your dreams
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide
No time
No time  — M83. “Wait”

Duncan Jones‘ Source Code (2011) is another recent achievement. During the initial, getting-acquainted period, it feels like 12 Monkeys (1995), The Matrix (1999), and Memento (2000) all crammed together and compressed tight, but once it gets rolling, it’s on a track all its own. Writer Ben Ripley brings together some tightly written science fiction and raises some interesting questions. The film is not about time travel per se, but its causal questions are the same: What happens to one reality when we change another quantum reality’s outcome? Source Code, the system for which the movie is named, uses the last eight minutes of brain activity we all experience upon death to allow a person to experience a different timeline in another, compatible person (via quantum entanglement and “parabolic calculus”;  As William Gibson put it, “The people who complain about Source Code not getting quantum whatsit right probably thought Moon was about cloning.”). The idea of the system is to be able to find out what happened just before a catastrophic event (in this case a train bombing), in order to prevent further events from happening (e.g., a massive dirty bomb set for downtown Chicago). Somewhere between brain stimulation and computer simulation, Source Code does its work. But Captain Coulter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes in for one last shot at getting everything just right (like Aaron’s repeated runs in Primer) and manages to manipulate more than the system is supposed to allow.

Jake on a Train: Duncan Jones directs the lovelies.

The film’s not flawless, but most of the causes for concern are cast-related. The “bad guy,” Derek Frost (Michael Arden), is barely believable, and Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) serviceably scrapes by, but Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the inventor of Source Code, is the standout bummer. As a serious scientist, as well as the movie’s real bad guy, he’s not only not believable, but his presence drags down an otherwise well-paced, well-performed movie. Gyllenhaal revisits and repeats a line from Donnie Darko (2001) — “Everything is going to be okay” — as well as some of the other themes from that movie.

There’s no end
There is no goodbye
With the night
No time
No time — M83. “Wait”

These two movies rely on well-worn mythologies of mind power and its manipulation of time and space, and, like other narratives of this kind, their underlying conceits rely on glimpses behind the lattice of reality in order to move beyond. But more than that, they rely on the strength of the human spirit to overcome undue adversity. Whether it be bullying in the case of Chronicle or the horrors of war in Source Code, the real story is human.


Plate of Shrimp: Miller from Repo Man explains it all [runtime: 2:44]: