(Not-So)-Micro-Review: THE HUNGER GAMES

Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel THE HUNGER GAMES is something of a mixed bag, to say the least. And while I can already hear the fans sharpening their knives against me, I stand firmly in the assumption that this novel – and, by extension, the premise that it represents – deserved a better adaptation. I should note at this point that I have almost no familiarity with the source material, and it’s entirely possible that many of my issues with the film are problems that stem from the novels themselves. That doesn’t change the fact that the adaptation process leaves room for tweaks and, god forbid, changes. Even Harry Potter did it, to the benefit of the film series.

This film suffers from structural, script and tone issues that I expect will be a moot point to the rabid fan-base who will be incapable of separating the adaptation from their preconceived notions of the story. This isn’t a knock, either – we’ve all done it for one franchise or another that we hold dear to our hearts. Yet, as somebody who came into the film with almost no prior knowledge, I found myself lamenting the woefully rushed pace, dualistic structure and, in the film’s final act, some downright counterintuitive plot developments. It’s entirely likely that those who have read the novels won’t even notice these aspects of the film, but they were glaringly obvious to me.

I wanted to know more about Katniss (played most suitably by up-and-comer Jennifer Lawrence), her situation and her day-to-day life before she was thrust into this adventure. I wanted to get to see her life on a daily basis outside of a few lines with her sister and would-be boyfriend, Gale. But for some reason, what might have been the first act turning point in a more deliberate film becomes the inciting incident in this one, and she finds herself volunteering for the titular games before I even know anything about her, her relationship with her costar and what exactly she’s giving up by doing so. When Woody Harrelson’s character – the delightfully named Haymitch – accuses Katniss of exhibiting an unlikeable personality that would be detrimental to her in the days to come, I found myself wishing that I was aware of her social issues prior to that scene. That way, when she finally overcame those issues, it would feel more rewarding – we’d have seen the full arc instead of just the latter half of it.

Which, of course, raises the central issue with the adaptation: there’s a lot of story to tell here, and the script doesn’t exactly do the best job making the tough choices on what’s important and what’s not. You always run the risk of angering fans in a situation like this, but somebody has to have a firm hand. Things need to be cut, and at an already-lengthy two hours and twenty-two minutes, it doesn’t seem like much was. Still, the film doesn’t feel long, mostly due to its strangely disjointed structure: about halfway through the narrative, the games – and what essentially amounts to “part two” of the film – begin. The transition is by no means smooth, and I found myself forgetting about characters from the first half as they reappeared in the second. Again, this actually has the added benefit of keeping the pace brisk and interesting, even if it betrays the consistency of the film.

Even so, the three screenwriters seem less interested in crafting careful character moments as they do in throwing everything they know of the story onto the screen in the hopes that the important beats stick out. Why the pivotal interaction between Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta and Katniss is told in slowly evolving flashbacks instead of as an opening scene is beyond me, for example – knowledge of their relationship is central to both the plot and the conclusion of the film, so it seems odd not to make that more central in the opening. Instead, the screenwriters seem to acknowledge that there is a lot of plot to burn through from the get-go and just dive in recklessly, counting on the audience to just tick off the beats in their heads (if they’re already fans) or forego traditional narrative evolution for the sake of density (if they’re newbies).

Despite this rushed opening, there are some really terrific moments to be found here, particularly the “reaping” of Katniss’ sister, Primrose, and her eventual volunteering to replace her. It’s a quiet, powerful scene that gives Lawrence a chance to show off her chops and gives the DP a chance to (finally) make effective use of his cinema vérité-style camerawork. (Seriously – what was the deal with some of the cinematography? A horrendous spectrum of handheld quality, from emotionally resonating to downright distracting. I get that they used it to mask some of the more intense scenes in order to keep the rating down, but it got ridiculous at times.) These quiet moments are actually peppered throughout the first half, and there’s a somber atmosphere that I wish had been more effectively and more often utilized.

The production design, on the other hand, is quite beautiful. It flirts dangerously close with Philip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut-stytle absurdist humour, and I for one wish that the film had actually forgone its melodramatic tendencies to play up this humour a bit more. There’s something devastatingly hilarious about how terribly unfair this entire plot is, and Ross uses small touches of humour to effectively balance that tone and keeps things from tipping over the edge into unearned sentimentality.

At least, for a little while. The second half is not so lucky, and it seems to abandon all elements of tonal complexity for a more straightforward narrative that becomes, frankly, rather dull; as soon as it becomes apparent that any aspirations for emotional nuance have been completely dashed, the film devolves into what is essentially slasher territory. We know these kids aren’t getting out alive; it’s just a matter of how they’re going to go, and by making almost half of them “evil”, the narrative doesn’t even attempt to supply any complexity to the tragedy unfolding before us. Even the “emotional” death of one of the characters about three-quarters of the way through the film is betrayed by the lack of seeding in the script. Perhaps readers were just happy enough to see the character die the way that she was supposed to, but as a newbie, I would have liked to have grown to care about her a bit more before they offed her, especially since the moments that followed her death were amongst the most powerful and poignant in the film. There was no reason why she couldn’t have been introduced earlier in the story (because she was, just not adequately enough) in order to pack a more potent emotional punch.

All of which is fine, by the way. Up until this point in the narrative, I was still entirely onboard with the film. There were moments where I wished it had taken its fantastic premise to greater heights, but I was perfectly happy with the adequateness that was going on. After all, putting all grievances aside, this is one of the more compelling and worthwhile young adult series being produced at the moment.

Then, of course, the final act kicked in, which successfully eliminated any hopes I had that this narrative would a) follow through on its premise and b) supply something within the realm of complex human psychology. Instead, we get a deus ex machina so potent that it essentially gives the characters an out from having to confront anything psychologically involving. Even the predictably last-minute reversal of the god machine did little to salvage the damage that had been done – never did the characters have to confront the inevitability of their predicament before they figured a way out. Instead, we get a, “oh, man, we actually have to go through with this? Well, I guess we could just do this instead…” that compromises what makes the premise interesting in and of itself.

All bitching aside, this is a decent movie. It has a little something for everybody: flashy effects, romance, dsytopic science-fiction, kids killing each other and even a dash of comedy. I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been much, much better, and I find that disappointing. They had the blueprint for a film that would have actually given the teen romance story a breath of fresh air: what if you had to look a person who loved you in the face and knew that you had to kill them? There are these moments in the film, sure, but never in a situation where one of the characters could have actually done it, and that’s the opportunity that was missed. Still, you could do worse at the theatre right now, and I expect that it’s going to please a lot of fans, especially considering the nearly unanimously positive response.

Just not for me, I suppose.

6.5/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: Janus’ NOX AERIS

For those uninitiated with Janus – who managed to find some success a few years back with single “Eyesore” – they’re not all that difficult to sum up: Chevelle crossed with Breaking Benjamin, featuring a few sporadic and impressively high-pitched screams to neatly wrap up the contemporary hard rock package. Despite a few instances of (very mild) electronica and programming, the group fits safely alongside the rest of their contemporaries. And, like the two aforementioned bands, there is a certain polish to NOX AERIS that makes it all as immediately digestible as it is entertaining.

Everything about this record is extremely deliberate: the riffs have been honed to perfection and the hooks manage to seem effortless in spite of their catchiness. One gets the nagging suspicion that all that time spent around Ben Burnley and Pete Loeffler may have caused some kind of songwriting and melodic osmosis, and that’s good news for all of the hard rock fans out there that still haven’t gotten their fill of this sound. Just about every song on this release could find a home on XM radio, and if this album were played front-to-back at a live show, it would result in one killer set.

If there are any grievances to be found here, they’d almost all depend on the listener’s enjoyment of this genre; you won’t find a more pure vision of the contemporary hard rock landscape than what’s presented here. Aside from that, it’s a shame that frontman David Scotney doesn’t utilize his unique dirty vocals more often throughout the record – they appear very seldom, to the detriment of NOX AERIS’ sonic palette. He has a way about his delivery that reeks of melody despite the glass-shattering pitches he strives for, and more of this would have been welcome.

Wisely, the band only slows things down on a single track – “Always Rains” – near the end of the record, keeping the adrenaline pumping from start to finish. The brisk runtime (an appropriate 37 minutes) helps, too; they never overstay their welcome, getting in and then out again before the listener has a chance to over-think things.

Janus might not have much in the way of experimentation and creativity to offer, but they do represent a promise that NOX AERIS completely delivers on: unapologetic hard rock that starts strong and stays that way throughout.

Standout tracks: “Stains”, “Numb” and “Pound of Flesh”.

7/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: The Veer Union’s DIVIDE THE BLACKENED SKY

My first exposure to The Veer Union was as one of the underdogs performing on the second stage at the 2009 Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t remember paying particular attention to them at the time. They performed early in the day, before we’d properly settled in, and nothing about their performance jumped out at me as anything other than stock hard rock; the kind that’s made for pleasant background music, but little else. Their name would reappear years later on rock radio in my area, and I briefly acknowledged my familiarity with them.

Enter DIVIDE THE BLACKENED SKY, their major-label, sophomore effort. The band has its feet planted firmly in the post-grunge genre: thick slabs of down-tuned riff-age, the occasional lead line and a few somber moments to round it all out make the album exactly what you’d expect. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, either. If you’re a fan of the genre, there’s no reason why this album won’t get a few well-deserved spins out of you; the hooks are more than adequate, the running time is short and to the point and the lyrics are emotionally resonating. (Maybe too emotional, in fact, as is the norm for the genre, but frontman Crispin Earl has more than enough attitude and power behind him to make it all worth overlooking).

Truth be told, you could do far worse in this genre than The Veer Union’s latest. Hailing from Vancouver, the band manages to avoid the traps set by their hometown co-conspirators, Art of Dying: despite a few toes dipped tastefully into sentimentality, they avoid the poppier elements that plagued Dying’s debut.  Instead, they manage to keep the juice and distortion flowing throughout, keeping their sound firmly in the realm of early-2000s post-grunge and away from the deathtrap of contemporary pop-rock.

Standout tracks include album closer, “Stolen”, “Bitter End” and “Inside Our Scars”.

6.5/10

d.a. garabedian

For My Sake: Shinedown’s AMARYLLIS

Shinedown has been on one hell of a roller coaster ride since they first started gaining a following as the opening band for 3 Doors Down. From their humble beginnings as a post-grunge band in the early-2000s, the band slowly built momentum, riding on their praiseworthy live show and infamously powerful frontman, Brent Smith (known once upon the time as “The Preacher”). Their raw debut LEAVE A WHISPER eventually gave way to the US AND THEM – a more progressive, blues-rock influenced sophomore album that shot them into the limelight. This ascension was aided in part by the support of Chris Daughtry, who would perform their track “I Dare You” to the nation while still a contestant on American Idol.

Then, sometime in between the release of their sophomore effort and their third album, something happened. As a band frequently plagued with rumors and whispers that they were the spawn of label interference and control, the group seemed to be imploding on itself: guitarist Jasin Todd was unceremoniously fired citing drug problems, followed soon thereafter by bassist Brad Stewart. In the interim, touring guitarist Zach Myers found himself thrust into a legitimate position in the band and Nick Perri – a friend of the band who had frequently toured alongside them in the criminally short-lived rock group Silvertide – stepped in as temporary lead guitarist. Soon after, the band released their breakthrough album, THE SOUND OF MADNESS, which launched the band into the stratosphere and solidified them as legitimate, international superstars.

It was around this time that the nature of the band began to be seriously called into question. As far back as their debut, the group had become infamous (though significantly less so up until this point) for using outside writing partners in the crafting of their songs. Indeed, Smith often called upon other producers to help him write his songs, including Rick Beato, John Shanks and what amounted to an unofficial fifth member, Tony Battaglia. Interestingly, their sophomore became what seemed to be the most pure and unified vision of what the band represented: using (mostly) only this-time-producer Battaglia as an outside writing consultant, many of the songs limited additional writing partners and even gave the rest of the band more of a hand in the creative process (go figure!). Yet, once half of the founding members were ejected from the group – including the now-more-creatively-involved Stewart – the label seemed poised to mold Shinedown into the act that they had been long-rumored to want them to be: the Brent Smith show.

At this point, Smith and drummer Barry Kerch – the last remaining founding member –  entered the studio to record what would become THE SOUND OF MADNESS. Produced by Rob Cavallo and employing studio musicians, Smith abandoned all past writing partners in order to team up with label-approved songwriter Dave Bassett. The result was a stunningly successful rock record that polarized the fan base, one that replaced the rawness of their debut and the tasteful, blues-rock of their sophomore with heavier and more generic Nickelback-esque rock ‘n’ roll. And having used studio musicians for the entire disc, the result was a fairly robotic listen that lacked the cohesion of a true band. Still, the band took it on the road (now featuring full-time members Zach Myers and new bassist Eric Bass) and earned staggering commercial success.

Four years later, the band have returned with AMARYLLIS, their first featuring this new line-up. The album reunites Smith with Cavallo, as well as writing partner Bassett. It even features the creative contribution of some of the band’s members – Myers on first single “Bully” and Bass on “Unity”, “Enemies” and “Nowhere Kids” – giving the album a much more “band-oriented” feel than its predecessor. For this reason alone, it’s a step above THE SOUND OF MADNESS, though certainly not a step as far in the right direction as long-time fans have been clamoring for since the undue departure of Todd and Stewart.

The album features a significant amount of variety, which is certainly to its benefit: full string sections, gang-vocals and even horns are scattered amongst the assortment of straight-up rockers and power ballads. Bass’ accomplished abilities as a pianist come to the rescue as well, adding a nice new texture to the group that was only sampled on MADNESS. In fact, it’s Bass’ musical capabilities that have kept Shinedown interesting since their very public implosion: his skills on both the piano and the upright bass – not to mention his impressive vocal capabilities – have given the group’s live show a fresh shot in the arm, twisting old favorites into unique arrangements. It’s a shame that these abilities aren’t put to better use on the record, where his creative input seems to have been minimal and his quirky stage choices have been stifled. It’s not surprising to see that there was little creative experimentation, though; this is Smith’s show, after all.

Still, the band’s presence is felt in a way that it wasn’t on MADNESS, and that’s good. Myer’s riffs are at least more human than the ones on the previous album, even if they’re still nothing to write home about and can’t stack up against Todd’s noodling on US AND THEM. Kerch’s work is as solid as ever, proving that he has been the invisible backbone of this group for almost a decade; he never calls attention to himself the way that he has in the past, and it’s for the better.

It’s Smith’s performance, however, that seems lackluster. Given that this is the man that gave us post-grunge classics “Fly From the Inside”, “45” and “I Dare You”, AMARYLLIS is far from his best showcase: his lyricism, both in content and in flow, seems safer than on previous albums, resorting to cliché themes and mantras like bullying and “putting your hands in the air”. As important and topical as some of these choices may be, it’s difficult not to imagine an alternate reality where Smith used his more creative wordplay abilities from the past to make less blunt and broad statements. The album does, however, hold a few gems that do show off the quality that one comes to expect from Smith: “I’ll Follow You”, which features a huge, poignant chorus and “For My Sake”, which might be the closest Shinedown will ever get to recapturing the spirit of US AND THEM.

All-in-all, the album is something of a mixed bag. While at times it’s content to settle into mediocrity – the bland, generic chorus of “I’m Not Alright”, which ruins a perfectly compelling intro, comes to mind – there are other times where it reaches for new and interesting sounds to add to the Shinedown canon, namely the pre-chorus in “Nowhere Kids”. This short, punchy bit of angst finally captures the rap-esque qualities that Smith has seemed so eager to sample since he dropped the baffling “Devour” on us, and it does it with elegant force. And yes, Smith’s experimentation with the sonic palette of the record goes a short way towards distracting the listener from the fact that, yes, you are listening to another Shinedown power ballad, but it seems like it’s all for naught. This listener remembers a time when all The Preacher needed was a few arpeggiated notes on an acoustic guitar behind him – and yeah, maybe a megaphone from time to time – in order to light up a room with a million stars and send a shiver down our spines. That version of Shinedown may be lost, but at least this album is a step, however small, towards recapturing the band’s unified feel. Because, Smith, let’s face it – you can preach unity all day long, but if you’re not together up there on the stage, we can’t be together down here on the floor – even if our hands are in the air.

6/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: 21 JUMP STREET

21 JUMP STREET is not just the funniest comedy of the year thus far – it’s one of the funniest comedies in recent memory. Based on the television series from the late ’80s starring Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise and brought to life by a creative team whose credits include cult-classics CLONE HIGH and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, the film works on nearly every level imaginable: as ’80s buddy-comedy satire, as a coming-of-age (twice!) tale and even as commentary on the nature of contemporary Hollywood and their remake-obsessed tendencies.

And although the script is smart (several of the meta-jokes are so subtle that they actually cue the act breaks themselves), the direction is assured and the editing is on par with a Nicholas Stoller comedy, it’s really the remarkable chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum that steals the show. Sure, there are some truly hilarious peripheral performances by Brie Larson, Ice Cube and Dave Franco (the absolutely terrific, scene-stealing younger brother to the infamous Oscar host), but the two leads are so astoundingly good together that nobody can even come close. If you’d have asked me my opinion of Tatum prior to this film, I’d tell you that I didn’t really have one, one way or the other – that’s how far off of my radar he was. Amazingly, he emerges here as a remarkable comedic personality, and I hope he remains in the genre for years to come.

The meta aspects of the script are absolutely hysterical, calling itself out for its own bullshit before it even happens, and making it all the more funny when the film first subverts and then pays off those expectations. The arc is predictable but knowingly so, and it has just enough heart and humor about it that I found myself not minding at all.

Most important, however, is that this film is funny. Really funny. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard or so consistently throughout an entire film. Every joke, every sight-gag, every plot-development and framing device all landed squarely where they were supposed to, leaving me in stitches. Many praise this film as being the best comedy since BRIDESMAIDS. I would argue that it surpasses it.

The film (of course) winkingly sets itself up for a sequel, but for once I don’t mind. In fact, I’m downright excited by the possibility. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’m ready for another go-around with these characters; they’ve earned that much in this ridiculous (and extraordinarily accurate) send-up of contemporary teenage and high school living.

Bring on the Undergrads.

8.5/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS

I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS has a certain healthy quirkiness to it that somehow manages to feel both fresh as well as comfortable. Although the film doesn’t take any dramatic risks, it manages to tell its story in a very succinct and enjoyable fashion, often balancing and shifting the tone in order to put the audience slightly off their guard: co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa infuse the film with a compellingly dark sense of humor that make these tonal shifts seem appropriate, original and earned.

The cast, luckily, is quite strong, giving the story the heart that it demands: while McGregor plays a phenomenally convincing gay man, Carrey effectively balances the razor-thin line between his early career hijinkery and the more dramatic fair that he has recently delved into. The result is one of his most impressive performances to date.

Ultimately, the film takes a slightly dark look at the cyclical nature of destructive relationships and how this destruction can actually come from a place of real love and affection. It may be true that a tiger is incapable of changing its stripes, but there may be some solace to be found in the idea that striped fur bears no relevance on the size of a tiger’s heart.

7.5/10

d.a. garabedian

 

Duncan Jones: Happiness Deconstructed

It might be a little early to call it, but I’m going to say it now: Duncan Jones revels in the bittersweet.

As Jones’ stunning debut MOON was coming to a close, I couldn’t help but feel those oh-so-familiar pangs of bitterness in what appeared to be a happy ending. Oh, sure – Sam Bell escaped from his captivity. He escaped from his endless loop of perpetual servitude. And maybe that’s enough for most people; maybe, just maybe, that’s enough of a victory to merit celebration. But for this viewer, there’s something that nagging about the ending – I can’t think about Sam’s victory over Lunar Industries any more than I can think about him finally returning to Earth after his endlessly prolonged stay on the Moon. The only thing that I can think about is how utterly horrible Sam’s dream of returning home is going to be. This isn’t a happy ending – far from it.

Sure, sure: I heard the newscast that plays over the final scene of the film. I know that Sam will go on to take own the evil corporation that enslaved him and that he’ll get his revenge. That does not change the fact that the love of Sam’s life is dead, his daughter has aged beyond his recognition and his original host is already living whatever remnants were left of the life that Sam planned to return home to. And not only that, Sam is programmed to die in three years. All personal victories and philosophical notions of the inevitability of man’s death aside, this is not a happy ending. This ending is bleak. And as I mentally prepared myself throughout all of Jones’ sophomore release SOURCE CODE, I could not shake the feeling that it was happening all over again. The sheer inevitability of the logic that would be presented in the final few minutes of the film ensured one thing and one thing only: this was going to be another one of those “blink-and-you’ll-miss-the-horror” Duncan Jones endings.

And before I go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: I’m not faulting Jones for any of this. I’m not nitpicking or calling him out. In fact, I’m celebrating it – I love the bitter sweetness, the pure dichotomy of his push-and-pull endings. They make for far more enjoyable closure than the typical standard fare, because they don’t stop once the film does. If anything, they only give implied closure, and for those that require it, it’s there for the taking. Yet, for those of us who need a little bit more, he leads us down a path that can end as darkly or as happily as we see fit. You get the overwhelming feeling that the story you’re watching isn’t over; it’s just beginning, and what lies beyond the moment the audience is disconnected is anybody’s guess. Will they live happily ever after? Will they achieve everything that their hearts’ desire? Probably not. There is an understated stance that with all of the complexity of stories like these, there may not ever be a happy ending. So, instead, Jones chooses to end his films on a high note – the high note immediately prior to the one where the proverbial shit hits the fan.

Such is the case with SOURCE CODE. I don’t think I’ve ever been so horrified by a so-called “happy” ending in my life. It’s an ending so selfish, so inconceivably and purposely limited by the overarching scope of the film’s narrative that to fully reveal its true implications within the context of the film itself would be to end the movie in what might only be described as despair-porn. And that’s sort of what’s so amazing about it. Jones leads his audience into believing that this is a happy ending: that Colter Stevens gets the girl, gets to win and gets to live. All of which is true, of course, assuming that you ignore the fact that to get the girl he’ll have to pretend to be Sean Fentress for the rest of his life, to get to win he had to kill innumerable, additional people over and over again and to get to live he had to erase another man from existence. And they call this a happy ending.

This is a commonly missed point about the ending of the film that demands discussion. If you’ve yet to listen to the commentary on the SOURCE CODE BD, I strongly recommend that you check it out: Jones, Ripley and Gyllenhaal discuss the horrors of the ending in frank and succinct detail. This discussion solidifies the claim that these bittersweet endings may not be innate to Jones’ subconscious; rather, he seems to be very aware of them. His comments in regards to how amusing he finds the misdirection of the film’s “happy” ending mirror my own, and it makes his approach to closure an infinitely more compelling discussion:

“…each time source code is used, Rutledge is actually responsible for a whole new series of deaths, because when Colter is unable to stop the explosion on the train, there are a whole new set of casualties… We’ve got a number of casualties, we’ve got Sean Fentress dead, we have multiple source code realities which are permanent where the train has exploded because the source code has been run, we have a relationship that’s a mess, we have Goodwin that’s confused out of her mind… And it’s a happy ending. [laughs]” – Duncan Jones (via the SOURCE CODE BD audio commentary)

It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to start putting together all of the disturbing pieces from the film’s shunned narrative devices into forming this unsettling continuation of the story. It’s enough for most people that the characters appear to live happily ever after, and yet for those in the audience that have followed the logic through to its obvious conclusion, there is an internal joke at play in the film, wherein there is simply no way that this can end well for any of the characters. It’s a fine joke, too: while those who take the film at face-value are content as Colter and Christina skip off into the sunset, the rest of us are sniggering behind her hands at the hell-storm that’s about to be unleashed on all of these people’s lives.

Colter and Christian have founded a relationship on a lie, one that will take a miracle to be avoided for the duration of their lives together. It’s not just any lie, either – it’s a “holy shit, you’re actually a guy trapped in another guy’s body that has been using fifth-dimensional time-travel in order to get into my pants” kind of lie, and those generally don’t wind up going over too well in the long run. Not only that, but there are horrible other moral implications, as well. If it’s true that each source code run produces a new reality which succeeds in existing beyond the eight minutes they believe it to, then they have killed all of the people on that train over and over again in differing and permanent realities just to save them in a single one.

[Of course, there’s also a more optimistic spin to it, wherein these realities were already there and source code simply taps into and allows Colter to visit them, meaning these people would have inevitably died were it not for Colter’s heroic attempts to save each timeline from the same fate. But as comforting as this idea it is, it doesn’t overly jive with Jones’ apparent dark sense of humour.]

And so we come back around to the inherent selfishness of the ending. Of all of these horrific conclusions that can be drawn from the natural continuation of the storyline, none of them matter in the world of the film. In the film, all we care about is Colter Stevens getting the girl and saving the world. And he does. And we’re happy. The end. And what’s fantastic about how Jones handles the ending is that he chooses not to let us rest on our laurels and savour the romantic ending. Does he end the story at the freeze-frame kiss? No. Does he end it at their moment together at the “Bean”? No. Jones rightfully keeps the story going just long enough to remind us that, despite their apparent happy ending, there are some “OMG” moments going on in the background that, if you weren’t paying attention, you might have forgotten about. Jones holds up the mirror to the audience as if to say:

“I know you wanted your happy ending. Here it is. I crafted a fine one for you. Now stop and think about how the sheer insanity of this entire situation and these two people’s happiness may just have destroyed many, many other lives, both literally and figuratively. Think about that the next time you watch your favourite movie couple walk off into the sunset together.”

In this way, Jones deconstructs the notion of the happy ending by giving the audience just enough clues and reveals to demonstrate how monstrously unhappy the circumstances of the plot have made things. It would be like ending THE LORD OF THE RINGS on a shot of a wife being evicted by the bank because her husband, a solider who died in the war, is no longer alive to pay the bills. It would be like ending one of the James Bond films on a scene where a traumatized agent gets divorced by his wife over the shell-shock that has made it impossible for them to continue a romantic relationship. It’s cynical, and it’s pessimistic, but it’s kind of amusing in the way that it satirizes what the audience perceives as a victory.

There’s a metaphysical aspect to it, as well. Jones and Ripley may be conditioning us to the deconstruction of the archetypal happy ending, but he does it through a very particular device: a machine that creates an alternate reality, much the same way the art of cinema creates a temporary, alternate reality that we can visit, explore and interact with. Maybe we don’t get eight minutes in the source code – maybe we get two hours. This isn’t time-travel; this is time re-assignment.

So the next time you watch a movie, don’t forget to give a nod of your head to that poor soldier who left his family in tatters so that Frodo Baggins could be a damned hero. Because, you never know: maybe after the two hours are up and the lights come on, the world of the film just keeps going after we leave it, and those poor casualties of war need all the help they can get once we’re done with them.

d.a. garabedian