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MindFood: How 'Source Code' Defines Geek

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Jul 27, 2011 | 10:05am EDT

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If you happened to read yesterday’s New in Blu (and if you haven’t, you should—it’s got movies in it), you’ll remember that I mentioned being very curious to see how Duncan Jones’ Source Code—one of the few truly original sci-fi films released so far this year—held up on repeated viewing. Well, turns out I kind of loved it a second time around.

ALTSeeing it in theaters my mind was busy, whether I wanted it to be or not, trying to figure out Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley’s puzzle before the movie revealed its answers. But at home, knowing full well what was going on, I could sit back and simply appreciate the intricacy of the world they were building and the story they were unraveling. Like all great pieces of sci-fi, I knew instantly that this would go on to become a movie I’ll gladly rewatch again and again and again.

That got me thinking about something that’s been brewing online for a while now. There’s this growing sentiment that real geek culture has been killed off because now everyone thinks they’re a geek. Over time it’s become cool to admit you love playing games or to take a date to the midnight opening of Captain America or to wear a shirt with an 8-bit design on it. Because these things are now fashionable and no longer intrinsically tied to the idea that liking the dorkier side of things means you have a pizza face and vomit when talking to girls, there’s somehow no longer an appropriate, or at least accurate, definition of the word geek.

But really, it’s not hard at all to tell who the real geeks of the world are. It’s all about repetition. Being interested in something that has traditionally been seen as uncool doesn’t make you a geek, but if you happen to be the type of person who will watch (or read or play) something over and over and over again, then you absolutely are a geek. Repetition is what levels someone up from normal to geek. It’s really just that simple.

Repetition is all you have to keep in mind whenever you need to wade through the murky waters of Hollywood to figure out whether a film in question is legitimately for you, the geek crowd, or if a studio is just trying to do its marketing duties as outlined by the, “Hey guys, geeks are cool now” memo everyone in LA appears to have received within the last few years. Take Transformers. It’s based off a toy line/cartoon that was very popular in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, which of course means it has value to geek herds. But are the movies designed to be watched over and over and over? Are they filled with interesting characters and layered with stories and mysteries that extend beyond the pages of the script? No, they’re not, because the Transformers series aren’t geek films. They’re disposable—and I’d say the same for a number of the recent superhero films, as well.

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Movies like Source Code, however, aren’t disposable. You can’t forget about a film like this or Moon. They’re not going to collect dust on your shelves because they demand to be watched multiple times. You can see the passion poured into every shot, and because that passion is so apparent and genuine, it’s infectious. There’s something that triggers in the back of your brain that says, “There’s more here, I know it. If I just spend more time with it, I’ll find it.”

Now that’s not to say that Source Code has some deep secret that’s going to take a dozen rewatches to unlock. The film has a pretty straightforward story, but what makes it geektacular is that it just feels larger than it is. It’s easy to get lost in its elements, to savor its ideas and expand on them internally. That’s just not something you can do with most Hollywood sci-fi movies. Even though ones that desperately try to sell themselves as geek, the Green Lanterns, the Percy Jacksons and the Super 8s and the Pauls of the cinematic world, tend to be so insular in story and scope that there’s really nothing about them that compels repetition. That’s a shame, but that’s why you hear so many geeks constantly talking about older movies with such reverence. The problem isn’t that new “geek movies” became popular and thus became uncool and shouldn’t be rewatched—it’s that those movies were never geek movies in the first place; they just tried (and failed) to wear the label.

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