Lauren: Though it isn’t as open to interpretation as Sucker Punch was last week, I felt myself needing a little bit of an explanation when leaving the viewing of Source Code. That’s right! It’s time for another dissection of a film. Since I am coming more so from the mindset of “huh?” this time around I will most likely be playing the part of the sounding board while Zac says something intellectually profound, to which I will again respond “huh?” Try not to judge me too harshly.
Oh, and SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!
Lauren: The story of Source Code isn’t completely straight forward, but at the same time it isn’t too hard to follow while it’s going on as long as you are willing to just go along for the ride. The basic understanding as the film progresses is that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Captain Colter Stevens, is taking part in a government run program that allows his mind to be transferred to that of Sean Fentress, a victim who died earlier that day on a bombed commuter train heading into Chicago. His mission is to discover anything possible that will help prevent a second attack on the city as he plays out the last 8 minutes of Sean’s life over and over again.
Now cut to the end of the film after Stevens has thwarted the terrorist attack and is asking to be put back into the train one last time. His wish is to be allowed to save everyone even though he knows it cannot actually be done in the real world. Turns out it can. That’s right, instead of just reliving memories; the source code manages to create an alternate reality in which all is well in the world. Care to spell this one out for me Zac?
Zac: I think you spelled it out quite nice actually. They set up the rules of the source code program for us earlier in the film and the ending would seem to be breaking said rules. But the film and Gyllenhaal’s character in the end discover that Jeffery Wright’s assumptions of what his program can do were wrong. This is everything you just said.
Where I disagree in your assessment is that an alternate reality was being created. I think that the source code was actually allowing Gyllenhaal to time travel into the past. The catch is that if Gyllenhaal is unable to change everything that occurred because of the accident, the universe would course corrects itself to make sure everything fell back in line. This is why Gyllenhaal got hit by the train when he got off the first time, and I assume some crazy accident happened to Michelle Monaghan shortly after that as well, and both of our leads were shot the second time we saw. I feel like director, Duncan Jones, could have explored this phenomena a little bit more, actually I feel like he could have taken just a step or two further in a lot of areas, but this is what I think was going with the time travel stuff.
One other thing with the source code is that I think that every time they sent Gyllenhaal back in time they reset the universe to that moment, so any changes that Gyllenhaal made to the world the previous trip in all gets set back to the status quo of reality. It is only when Gyllenhaal saves everyone that the world is changed for good. When Vera Farmiga cuts off Gyllenhaal’s life support in the original time line she cuts the last remaining tie between the new reality and the old, Gyllenhaal’s consciousness, erasing the old reality for good and un-suspending the frozen new reality which was waiting for the break.
Now here is the real question: when the new reality becomes live, is Gyllenhaal’s Captain Colter Stevens’ consciousness still in the body of Sean Fentress or is the last few moments of the film the real Sean and Christina (Monaghan) kindling their romance that had been long brewing? If not, it is a really sad and twisted ending in that Sean has been erased mentally from the world. I think Sean is Sean in the end because we are shown that Colter is still alive and well in the source code facilities.
Lauren: Huh? No just kidding. I definitely like the interpretation you got from that and there isn’t a whole lot to argue against it. For one thing we know it isn’t just memories because Colter is able to go into locations like the train station and see things that Sean wouldn’t have seen. I mean, let’s hope that he didn’t climb into the vent of his own accord, see a bomb, and mosey on back to his seat like nothing was wrong.
I also much prefer your idea of time travel as opposed to the alternate reality idea because that becomes way too confusing as to how closely the worlds are tied together. Walter would have a melt down, that’s for sure (Fringe reference! BAM!). However, I did have a little problem with all of the deaths. Obviously Colter being in the explosion over and over again makes sense, and this repetition is probably one of the reasons they chose to montage his effort and not just show fire after fire consuming his body, but I was really getting worried about the other ways they were course correcting, Final Destination style (boyfriend gets props for making that reference). The first death in which he falls in front of the train was shocking and felt right (and thanks to you I really want to know how her character bit it now), but I was starting to get concerned once Colter and Christina hit the ground with the gunshots, and had those last looks under the train like that episode of ER where Lucy dies… Goodness my train is not staying on track today. Anyway I was just really nervous that the film would start to lose its fluidity and feel forced, which is the main problem I had with how they presented the ending.
I also think the fear of repetition and randomness of deaths in the course correction theory is another reason why the film’s pacing wavers a bit when it jumps ahead of itself by allowing Colter to stop the terrorist attack with half an hour of the film remaining. While watching the movie I was ok with it because I loved Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of his character and felt for what they had put him through (seeing his body was heartbreaking, that’s for sure), and I wanted to see him get his quintessential hero ending. He gets to talk to his dad one last time, saves the world, and gets the girl. And as sad as it is this is why I don’t really care about Sean’s character. Sure it sucks if he doesn’t get to continue on in his body (which reading the surface level is the case considering following the freeze we still see Gyllenhaal and only the reflection of Sean’s true appearance in the bean, but not head on), but this isn’t his story. Sacrifice the one for the many, and all that jazz. Or maybe Sean does get his body back, and what happens post freeze is Colter’s fantasy of what would happen next playing out. Like the life he will never have flashing in front of his eyes. Maybe it was tugging at my hopeless romantic heartstrings, but this is why the final scene in which Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) receives Colter’s message about the alternate reality felt like it came out of the blue. I had already interpreted this last run as his happy ending so he could die in peace, and so when Goodwin pushes the button he would just cease to be. This ending would have been my choice of ending that night, and I would have probably cut the continuation after the freeze if it is anything other than Colter’s “heaven.”
So here are my questions: When do you think Colter figures it out? Obviously he could have just sent the message to Goodwin just in case (a la sending Dr. Rutledge a pizza), but do you think he knew for certain that they had created something new (or that he went back in time)? Also, if it is reality then why did they choose to have Christina glitch at one point like she was a creation of the computer? Is this because while he is in the “memory” it is overwriting the past, or what? In other words, is it as if it is rerecording over a VHS tape?
Zac: I think I stated earlier how I think things get reset over the previous. The whole glitch thing I take no more than a simple breakdown of the source code program, not a reality or not a clue. If the program isn’t working right then little hic ups might happen and then the universe carries on as usual.
As for Colter figuring things out, I don’t think he did; he took a shot in the dark and was right. I wish I could remember if there was a sign that Colter was Colter after the unfreeze but I guess I will have to look the second time out.
I don’t understand why you take so much issue with the last couple minutes of the movie though. The ending you prefer implies that what he did meant nothing and only existed in an imaginary world. If you didn’t have the last two minutes the film would have had no grand conclusion and would have openly participated in a pointless exercise that meant nothing. That said, like Sucker Punch, I don’t like how the film had a prolonged sequence where we were left assuming none of what we are watching matters. Again, they save it in the end here, like Sucker Punch, but it’s odd that in back to back weeks we have had films that just set up sequences that very well might not matter in the slightest. The first two thirds of the film avoided this since there was the suspense to help stop the bad guy, but I couldn’t believe that they were entertaining the idea that the characters were going to openly participate in a fantasy just for fun.
What do you think the significant of the flashes of the couple at the mirror bean at the end implied? Was Colter seeing the future some how? Was it Colter or Sean’s future?
Lauren: Well I don’t understand why you always take issue with things happening without meaning. A large percentage of The Fall is just the story a man tells a little girl, but it is helping him psychologically to work through his issues and help him move on. Doesn’t that matter? This is the same thing to me. On the small scale he just wanted to talk to his father one last time, which he had been begging to be able to do throughout the entirety of the film. On the grander scale, going back into the world to save the day matters to Colter because he felt for this woman and did not want to die knowing that she (and the rest of the people on the train) were not saved by his actions, so even though he believes that he won’t actually be saving her he is going to allow himself this suspension of disbelief. You can’t tell me that in his position (keeping in mind that he was a soldier) you wouldn’t want to go back in and rescue hundreds of people before having your plug pulled. And it’s not that I do not like the end of the movie, I just hate how tacked on it feels because as I was watching it I was reading the film completely differently, so I was blindsided by the admittance that it wasn’t just “memories.” Like I said, the film is great on the first viewing, but it is really with a second viewing now that I know the ending that I will really get to appreciate what they did with it.
And I know from personal experience that time travel is a tricky thing… Okay, not really, but you have to assume that if he is able to move into the past and reset it that seeing glimpses of the future is more than possible. Maybe the flashes were showing what would come if he was able to redirect the current path, maybe it was showing where Sean would be in the present moment if Colter saves the train in the past, like the residual image of something being written over (but that only works if they work in parallel and not with Colter strictly traveling back in time), who knows. In all honesty when we do see the bean at the end it felt a little silly that he had had flashes of that, but at the same time I was comforted by this because maybe the flashes throughout the film were where he fantasized it would all lead to if he was able to save the day and continue living this new life, so after he’s unplugged this fantasy is played out for us.
Zac: Personal experience? You time travel? The Fall is completely different, the film is a fairy tale and is presented as much from the get go. I think Colter would get no satisfaction from consciously participating in something he knew was pointless, even if he was to be terminated shortly after. Which I guess brings things back around to your comments about when/if Colter knew source code was more than they let on. If he knew that he had a shot at actually stopping this thing and convinced Vera Farmiga into sending him back in, I think that would be cool, but I think he asks Monaghan the whole what would you do if you are going to die question right before they kiss and freeze. This would of course imply that this was going to be his last moment. And maybe it was if you think that Colter was reset back into his body in the new reality like I do, waiting for that opportunity for him to be finally sent into the source code since he negated his original experience.
I don’t know, a lot to chew on here, I just think you are not alone in the complaining on the final moments. While I was like, “what is going on here?” I don’t think in the slightest that those moments felt tacked on, regardless of your reading of the rest of the film. They make the film make sense and matter in its entirety and not just a fantasy or experiences in a memory; it makes the film real.
Is there anything else you wish they would have played with or gone into further with the premise Jones had at his fingertips?
Lauren: But it is the same! The Fall is presented as a story that parallels reality in the characters he has created and their actions within the story; Source Code is presented as reliving a memory, thus they are both not real as far as the protagonists are concerned. On his last run Colter just goes in knowing that he is looking for something better, something to put his mind at ease, where as Roy in The Fall happens upon this by accident.
There, now that I have put my foot down let me backtrack a little before I get to your final question because I need you to flesh out your ending a little more. If the world resets and Colter is put back into his body waiting to go into the source code (thus implying he has never been in it) and Sean’s mind has returned to his body, who saved the train? AKA will Colter have memory of this if the source code has not been used in this reality? Will Sean have memories of this considering it was his body? I mean, everyone on the train would see him as the hero for this so will he just claim the intensity of the events has caused a lapse in his memory? Or is Goodwin the only one with any inkling of what happened because of the message she received from Colter?
Zac: I still disagree on The Fall comparison, but I will let it sit.
The time travel creates two simultaneous realities that are occurring at the same time, think Back to the Future II chalkboard. So when Colter is taken off life support in the original reality his consciousness leaves Sean in the new reality and the old reality ceases to be. This leaves the Colter at source code as the only Colter in the new reality. That is how Colter is able to stop the bomb, in Sean, even though his reality ceases to exist. It exists until the bomb is defused and then I guess Colter can carry on in the remaining time of the 8 minutes. Hope that makes sense.
As for seeing Sean as a hero, no one saw Colter carry out the capture and he defused the bomb very covertly and isolated so no one was aware of what happened until the next stop when he gets off. And no, Sean and Colter have no knowledge of the original reality in my theory. Goodwin is left with knowing something happened but not sure what; I imagine they figure it out down the line.
Lauren: I am just going to nod along and pretend that I’ve seen Back to the Future II… And continue to be obstinate about how insignificant Sean’s life / consciousness is to the story. With Gyllenhaal still present in Sean’s body at the end, either Colter continues consciousness somehow manages to cling on to its new home, or this is a fantasy (like Sweet Pea getting on the bus in Sucker Punch).
As for anything else I wish they had done with the film I think it would have been interesting to see each cycle of the events on the train effect the trip back in following. This of course would not work if the attempt is wiped clean as you have argued, and I am not saying I would have rather they do this over what was decided on, but I think it would be interesting to have echoes of his other trips into the source code as it messes with reality. They did hint that this was affecting Colter’s mind somewhat, so I feel like his mind wouldn’t completely be able to make sense of what he is going through (like when it freaked out when he realized that the container he was in wasn’t actually real, but something his mind created). Maybe this would have created an environment that would have made me question more of what I was seeing, thus creating a greater amount of doubt in my mind that would better prepare me for the end reveal.
In addition to this I think they could have better clarified the beginning. Was that Colter’s first trip in? They spoke to him as if he should know what is going on in concern to mission and what he was doing on the train, though when we first see him he is as surprised and confused about his presence here as we are; and even more so when he is pulled out of the “memory.”
Other than that I really loved the way they were able to keep the movie entertaining each time we passed go, especially in concern to how Colter reacted to the world. They didn’t overplay the fact that he knows the first few events before they happen, and I know it is definitely funny to watch someone move through a world in which they believe nothing they do will have any effect because these people no longer exist.
So how about you? Anything you would have done differently?
Zac: I think if the world was slowly changing as Colter did more and more on the train that would have been cool, but it technically couldn’t change anything because it all blows up in the end and the original reality is never changed.
As for the beginning, I think it was his first time on the train, yes, because there isn’t a whole lot of time to have been wasted, I just think they just might have altered his memory or something so he could meld with Sean’s mind easier or something. It also was the first time they used the source code for real; remember at the end after the attack had been avoided Jeffery Wright was talking about how they will soon get their first shot? So I think his forgetfulness could have just been a side effect of going into the source code; hence why they had the emergency remembering protocol with the story and the cards.
Things I would have changed? It is more I wish they would have gone more into some ideas they brought up. The film feels like it is just scratching the surface of its ideas and I think that is to keep it mainstream. The film works, and works well; I just think it was ripe for further dissection. They could have gotten more into the course correction, what would happen if he left the train and tried to get away, or his knowledge of the train and what happens felt really unexplored. They sacrificed these explorations to keep the film tight, I imagine, but I wonder if the film hadn’t spent as much time out of the source code if they could have gotten into some of its ideas more.
Lauren: Yeah, I would definitely love to learn more about this world because there is just so much to ponder on both in and out of the machine, as long as I get to spend less time with Jeffrey Wright’s slimy, unethically exploitative, capitalist Morpheus impression. For starters, did Colter volunteer for this (most likely a no on that one considering how little Wright’s character cares about Colter’s wishes to die)? What happened in those weeks Colter can’t remember between his “death” in the war and the present situation at the source code facility? What are the plans for the program after this initial phase of trials? When are they going to learn that they created a time machine that they can then expand on so they can go all the way back in time, accidentally step on a plant, killing it off and somehow forever change the world so that humans became extinct and kangaroos rule the world? All valid questions (if you stop reading that last one after “machine”)…
The point is, if we are willing to speculate this much about the world of Source Code then clearly those involved with making the film succeeded in creating something truly spectacular, no matter how much Zac and I are capable of going back and forth, stubbornly pushing our ideas of what really happened in those last moments (and what movie this film is comparable to…). But with all we discussed here I cannot wait to dive back in to the cycle once more with the knowledge I have now, and cannot recommend this enough to those who haven’t seen it yet or left the film as confused as I was.