Jake Gyllenhaal is no stranger to working with mad scientists — or at least mad science. A decade ago he played schizophrenic teen Donnie Darko in Richard Kelly’s memorably offbeat feature about wormholes, time travel, a diabolical rabbit and an impending apocalypse.
Now Gyllenhaal, 30, is back on semi-familiar ground, playing an Air Force colonel badly wounded in the Middle East but kept alive as the guinea pig in a top-secret government experiment.
Opening Friday, the movie is “Source Code,” the second offering (after 2009’s “Moon”) from sci-fi surrealist Duncan Jones.
As in “Darko,” the son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and writer-producer Naomi Foner (“Losing Isaiah”) is once again navigating alternate realities, this time to gather information crucial to preventing a terrorist attack.
It’s the kind of story that keeps you guessing, not only about what’s going to happen, but whether what has already happened follows the movie’s own rules. You’re not alone.
“First, I needed to know that the science was at least conceptually logical,” Gyllenhaal says of “Code.” “The ideas had to make sense enough that I bought it, ‘cause movies like this sometimes veer off in an absurdist way. But the story is solid scientifically, even as it raises interesting questions on a philosophical level.”
Impressed by “Moon,” Gyllenhaal saw Jones, 39, the son of rock legend David Bowie, as a “cosmic” fit to direct.
Did he consider Kelly? “I thought Duncan might not do it, because he writes the things he wants to direct, and Richard is the same way,” he says. “But Duncan kept coming up to me saying, ‘Make it weirder.’ Maybe Richard’s stuff is already too inherently weird.”
Gyllenhaal credits Jones with being open to suggestions, to the extent that he shot an alternate ending Jake proposed on a whim.
The actor, who describes himself as being “a little out there,” says he’s passionate about the story, in which his character is repeatedly thrust into catastrophic scenarios, with only minutes to stave off disaster.
Can he imagine himself in the same situation? “It’s wishful thinking, but if I had only a minute to live, I think I’d call my family and try to have a good laugh. It’s nice to laugh entering and nice to laugh exiting.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright
Written by Ben Ripley
Directed by Duncan Jones
Rated PG 13
Running time 1 hour 33 minutes