Duncan Jones '95
When he won a BAFTA — a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award — last year for his first feature film, an emotional Duncan Jones told the audience, "It's taken me an awful long time to know what I wanted to do with my life and finally I think I’ve found what I love doing."
The Village Voice said Jones' directorial debut, Moon, "marked him as a major new talent" and both the Voice and CNN tabbed his next project, Source Code, as one of the most eagerly awaited movies of 2011.
Now the wait is over and the critics agree it was worth it.
The New York Times calls Source Code "a science-fiction thriller with a contemporary twist…Mr. Jones creates a sense of intimacy that draws you into the characters, so that the tension comes from your feelings for them and not purely from the plot twists." In the U.K., The Guardian calls it "a superb follow-up" to Moon, "terrifically exciting and hugely enjoyable."
"Jones has put himself into the front-rank of Hollywood directors," says the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, "the kind who can deliver a big studio picture with brains."
Jones' first foray into filmmaking came on a decidedly more modest scale, at an early age. "About 10 years ago, my dad gave me a VHS for Christmas," he recalls. "On it were the first few short films I shot with his help when I must have been six or seven years old. It was pretty much my favorite father/son hobby, and made use of an 8mm film camera capable of shooting one-stop animation… using Star Wars toys and Smurfs."
Jones moved around a lot as a child, living in England, Switzerland, Japan, and Australia, before landing at an austere, military-style boarding school in Scotland at age 12 (and from which he was asked to depart at 18, after falling asleep in his English A-level exam). He cheerfully admits that he was a "massively geeky" and "painfully shy" boy.
At the urging of his old headmaster, he took the SAT and began looking at U.S. colleges. In the course of two weeks visiting campuses in New England and the Midwest, he discovered Wooster and it immediately felt "comfortable…multicultural and multinational."
"Wooster hit me at just the right time in my life," he says. "I was just starting to get excited about what I could do with my life. I took creative writing and art classes, and tried to spread out as much as possible…One of the wonderful things about Wooster was it gave us all a sense of empowerment...We wanted to make a difference and do things that people would notice."
While Jones did no filmmaking at Wooster, he does trace some of the themes he explored in Moon back to his Independent Study project, "How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine." And it's easy to see why the Source Code script appealed strongly to this philosophy major. In the Times' review, Manohla Dargis writes that the Jake Gyllenhaal character "doesn’t just jump through action-flick hoops, he also confronts some Big Questions — Are we alone? Are we free? Do we have free will?"
After graduating from Wooster and deciding not to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy as he had planned, Jones went to the London Film School. He worked as a camera operator for director Tony Scott, directed music videos and commercials in the U.K., and produced several short films, including Whistle, which he calls "a practice run" for doing a feature.
Fresh from the U.S. press tour for Source Code, Jones is already busy writing his next script.
"Source Code was an opportunity to show what I could do with a big-name star on a bigger budget," Jones told Wired. "Hopefully, audiences like this movie enough that I’ll get an opportunity to make some more of my own films and then go back and forth between working on other people’s projects and doing things that are real labors of love."