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Hollywood and Weapons

By Taylor Marvin

I watched the movie Source Code last night. I found the film to be a bit disappointing — I’m a fan of director Duncan Jones and star Jake Gyllenhaal and found the film’s concept intriguing, but was disappointed in the shallow plot and the film’s lack of internal logic. However, there’s something interesting about the film’s poster. Take a look:

This is a standard action movie poster: Jake Gyllenhaal, gun in hand, is frantically running from an explosion that destroyed his scrapbooking project. However, take a closer look at the gun in Gyllenhaal’s hand:

Gyllenhaal is clearly clutching a semi-automatic pistol. However, in the film Gyllenhaal’s character only uses a gun briefly, and when he does it’s an antiquated stub-nosed revolver:

What gives? The rest of the poster is consistent with the film — notably, Gyllenhaal appears to be wearing the exact same outfit he wears throughout the movie. Why did the poster’s designers think it was important to change the type of gun his character holds?

It’s possible that this is just a continuity mistake, and the poster’s designers did not have the intention of changing the type of pistol depicted. However, I suspect there’s something more. Stub-nosed revolvers are generally viewed by American culture as archaic and less-than-martial: police haven’t commonly carried them since the 1980s, and they have never been popular with the American military. Semi-automatic pistols, however, project a much more warlike ambiance — they are the current weapon of most police officers and military personel. For this reason, they are much more popular in movies. Gyllenhaal’s character in Source Code only uses a revolver because it’s what’s available. While this is acceptable in the film, it seems that it was not sufficiently war-like — or more accurately, in the accepted spirit of American action movies — for the poster.

This is interesting because Source Code isn’t a film that’s particularly enthusiastic about war — Gyllenhaal’s character is depicted [mild spoiler alert] as a US soldier who has been exploited by an uncaring and remote military bureaucracy, and who only uses violence reluctantly. However, the film’s poster exists to sell the movie and American film audiences seem to respond well to images that suggest organized violence and martial strength, traits embodied more strongly in the semi-automatic pistol than the revolver. Interesting, right?

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