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Source Code

"Everything's gonna be okay."

I loved this movie. It was terrific. Moving and entertaining, exciting and fast-paced without surpassing my violence comfort zone, and surprisingly, while the plot centered around the worst that human beings can be, I left the theater feeling pretty damned good about people. How often can you say that about a science fiction movie?

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, an American Army pilot who wakes up on a Chicago commuter train in the body of a man named Sean Fentress. Colter is confused and has no idea what is going on. Eight minutes later, the train blows up and everyone dies. Colter wakes up in a pod where he is told that he cannot change what has already occurred, but that it is his mission to discover who blew up the train so that an even worse event can be prevented. Under the guidance of an Air Force captain named Goodwin, Colter returns and relives the same eight minutes repeatedly as he tries to uncover the identity of the bomber. At the same time, Colter unravels the mystery of his own situation and what is really going on in the pod.

This is the sort of movie that makes you pay attention and think while you're also being wonderfully entertained. I also find it rather amazing that the ending is both completely satisfying while at the same time open to interpretation. While still being its own unique self, elements of Source Code reminded me of Inception, The Matrix, and Groundhog Day, all of which are personal favorites of mine. What all four movies have in common is a captivating, original idea that is executed beautifully.

If this were a standard drama instead of science fiction, Jake Gyllenhaal would be nominated for a best actor Oscar; he had me in every moment of the movie. Vera Farmiga as Captain Goodwin turned in a marvelously subtle, standout performance. Michelle Monaghan was perfectly poignant as Christina, Colter's companion on the train. There's a delightful in-joke, as well; Scott Bakula, who is famous for playing time-traveling Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, played the voice of Colter's father.

I honestly can't say any more without spoiling this movie. I'm even afraid that I already said too much. So I'm going to stop here. If you like good sci-fi, don't miss this one. The end.

Four out of four cups of coffee,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


Mark Greig said...

Nice review, Billie. Looking forward to seeing this as I really enjoyed Duncan Jones’ previous film, Moon (if you haven't seen it yet please do so, it's mint). Alas, money is tight at the moment so I’ll have to wait for the DVD.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks, Mark. I did see Moon and it was quite good. I liked Source Code more, though.

lisam said...

I can't believe nobody is pointing out how similiar the plot is to Star Trek Voyager episode Relativity.

Juliette said...

I really enjoyed it too (though Duncan Jones' previous movie Moon is possibly still just my favourite of the two!). It also reminded me a bit of A Matter of Life and Death (though not as much as The Adjustment Bureau did!). Vera Farmiga especially was brilliant (and I really liked that she was a woman in the forces, but that had nothing to do with her part in the story. I especially loved the moment when Coulter insisted she answer him one soldier to another).

Billie Doux said...

lisam, I saw all of Voyager but have thankfully blotted most of it out of my memory. Zob is right -- Quantum Leap precedes Voyager. :) Juliette, I also liked that moment when Colter insisted Goodwin answer him as one soldier to another. I think that Vera Farmiga's part could easily have been played by a man. But she was so perfect for it. She has such an unusual and interesting face, too.

Sooze said...

I liked this movie, I really did. But I couldn't make the basic premise work for me...after the movie, I kept saying to myself "wait a minute, what about...", or "that part didn't make sense..." or "how could THAT be???" - anyway, I don't want to ask specific questions b/c it'll spoil others...so I'll wait until the movie has been out long enough. I had an easier time wrapping my head around Inception - don't ask me why. Anyway - that all being said - I was enormously entertained and thought Gyllenhaal was terrific.

Harry said...

Hehe I was hoping for a spoiler ridden review Billie, I need help digesting exactly what Source Code is and what happened in the end, but despite my slight confusion it was still clear enough to follow and appreciate the complex plot.

What made me love Source Code though was the film's emotional centre and how deeply sympathetic Colter was. I was right there with him in that pod.

Billie Doux said...

Sooze and Harry,

As I said, I think the ending is open to interpretation, but I can tell you what I thought it meant. And I'll add some spoiler space first. If you haven't seen the movie yet, DON'T READ THIS!



tra la la...

don't read this...

Okay. At some point in the movie, Colter started talking about there being a reality where this ends differently. I find quantum mechanics and the multiverse theory so confusing, but apparently, every time we make a decision, there is a split, a universe where we didn't make that decision and one where we did. When Colter sent the email to Goodwin, made the 911 call and so on, I think that's what happened. In the old universe, we had Colter and Goodwin and what she did with the pod. And in that new universe, we got the ending that we saw. Well, either that, or it was the afterlife. That's what I meant when I said I thought it was open to interpretation.

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

Oh, we can do spoilers? Yay!

Sooze, Harry, I have found that the thing that trips up most viewers is the logic of the technology itself, so I hope you find this helpful. I don't reveal any specific plot point beyond that, but still, if you haven't seen Source Code, and you should, I advise you to stop reading...now!


Actually, the alternate reality is created before any decision is made. That's key to quantum theory and to what spoke to me the most in the movie.

The premise of Source Code is based on Schrödinger's cat, which states that if you put a cat in a box, the cat is both dead and alive inside until you open the box because either potential reality is unverifiable. In other words, until you observe an object and thus seal its fate, all possible realities for it exist at the same time.

The source code technology consists of throwing Colter's consciousness in the memory of the dead guy at a specific point before the explosion. Why? Because at that psychic point, the dead guy didn't just sit there and die or find a bomb or beat up some guy or make a bet with a comedian, so all those possibilities still exist, and Colter can navigate between them by making different decisions.

The central conflict is between Dr Rutledge, who thinks the alternate realities are merely theoretical simulations, and Colter, who actually connects with the people in the train and maintains the hope that he can save them somehow.

The message, I think, is that life is defined by genuine human connection. Anything else is just cold theory. It's easy to adopt a fatalist viewpoint when you see people as pawns in a socio-political game like Rutledge or the terrorist, but when you actually invest in the world around you, hope become a more natural, almost automatic, approach. That's why Vera Farmiga's growing bond with Colter becomes so important to the story, because his hopes become increasingly closer to reality for her, the way anyone's dreams and potentials come to shape reality when you care and believe in them.

Billie, you mentioned that the plot centers on the worst humans can be, and that's true, but I think it does so to convey the best trait in human nature. I suspect the reason I (and apparently you too) felt good about people at the end of the movie is because the story invites us to observe the best potential in people for both quantum and emotional purposes.

Anyway, I hope this explanation of fictional quantum theory was helpful.

Finally, Billie, I just want to applaud you for writing a fully spoiler-free review for Source Code. I saw the movie on opening night and decided against writing about it because I knew any clumsy thought I shared might diminish the experience for viewers. You circumvented those potential landmines wonderfully!

Billie Doux said...

What a terrific comment, Dimitri. You touched on the layers of meaning that can be found in this movie. Who says a ninety-minute science fiction action movie can't be deep?

We've done spoilers in comments before, and even in the actual movie reviews. It's fine as long as there is sufficient warning so that people can bail out if they want. And Dimitri and I were both unspecific when we discussed the ending, too, even after spoiler space. I hope anyone posting a comment after us will do the same.

Sooze said...

"Aha!!" - Billie and Dimitri - thank you - you answered my biggest question. So for those who still do not want to be spoiled...stop reading my comment.

My biggest "huh?" was just what you both explained, but in slightly different ways...if Colter's brain connected with the dead guy's, wouldn't the action be limited to what the dead guy actually experienced? And you both answered that very well for me: (Dimitri) "Because at that psychic point, the dead guy didn't just sit there and die or find a bomb or beat up some guy or make a bet with a comedian, so all those possibilities still exist, and Colter can navigate between them by making different decisions." - the key being all those possibilities still exist. And Billie - your thoughts about decisions we make and how that can effectively open up a different universe - awesome.

I did leave the movie feeling like Colter's new life was "real" - and not just a dream or afterlife. Especially with the text going through to Goodwin in "her world". I just didn't get how.

And I do agree with what most everyone has commented about the emotional connection - and that is why I did really enjoy the movie even though (up until now) I couldn't get my rational brain to accept the premise. So now I like it even more! Thanks.

Mark said...

The movie ended well for Stevens, but what about Fentress? That kind of sucked some of the joy away.

Anonymous said...

*slightly spoilery**

It's funny - I did like Source Code a lot, but not as much as I expected to having spent months dying to see it. I really did love the premise, but I'd heard rumours that Duncan Jones had asked the scriptwriter to make the ending 'more emotional' (ie, less bleak), and it's more than a little obvious when you watch it that the second half loses focus and doesn't fit or flow so well as the first. There are a hell of a lot more cliches toward the end, and it veers toward the sentimental rather than emotional (which was signposted horribly by a really bombastic music score - that really distracted for some reason).

** major spoilers**

**major spoilers**

Even after I spent the rest of the evening defending it to my not-very-impressed friend, I'm still slightly disappointed by the lack of even lip service to logic (or, er, life support to pseudo-corpses). I'm happy to let the time travel/alternate universe pseudo-physics burble on in the background so long as the actual story made sense, but it laid the 'happy ending' a little too thick toward the end (and I found the freezeframe of the kiss/the carriage laughing actually creepy as all hell).

I did love Michelle Monaghan making the most out of very little character, the cinematography is rather lovely, the plot of the first half was niftily inventive and the fact they used the Cloud Gate sculpture image all the way through made me smile (it's always what springs to mind when I think of Chicago). Also, Scott Bakula! I may have cackled when I saw his name in the end credits :o)

But did it really end that well for Colter? Superficially, yay he gets Christina and doesn't die (yet again), but he's a kinda traumatised highly trained combat veteran stuck forever in Sean's stolen body, having to fake Sean's life and actually deal with the consequences - and can never see his dad again? The more I thought about that afterward, the more bleak it stuck me as..!

Sooze said...

Mark & Anon - Ya, that dawned on me later...(Colter in Fentress's body)...one of the "huh'?" I said to myself afterwards. But, I gotta stop thinking about it all too much - it was an entertaining movie.

Anonymous said...

Although at this point in the comments it is kinda silly...


I've now seen this movie twice. There didn't seem to be any false sentimentality to me. The ending of Fentress's life was a foregone conclusion. There were only two possible outcomes, the train explodes or the train doesn't explode. The rest were skips in quantum realities.

Because of the introduction of the Source Code, Colter was intrinsically tied to Fentress. That was the real cost of the experiment. From the moment they put Colter into that alternate reality he was permanently in Sean's body.

So the two concurrent realities were; the train explodes, and the Source Code experiment is a success. The train never explodes, Colter lives on in Sean's body, and the experiment never happens.

But that is just my theory =-)

Gus Brunetti said...

This movie finally premiered last week here in Brazil, so I could at last watch it. I really liked it too. But, Like Mark, I wonder what happened to Sean, because


If Colter's "soul" has taken over Sean's body in the alternate reality or the rewritten reality or whaterver it was, what happened to Sean's soul?