I’m not sure who sees hit movies in the theater even later than I do… maybe people with two kids. But, believe it or not, when I talk about the ending of The Source Code, it may give away the ending. Shocking, I know.
I didn’t expect to become enthralled by The Source Code. Not after watching that explosion-ridden preview 100 times during basketball games. But, the film had an intelligence and an emotional core that its trailer failed to convey. This depth can be plainly seen by the long analysis that Zac and Lauren gave the film. But because I became so invigorated by the film, it was even more disappointing when it developed a stereotypical Hollywood ending. The Source Code until the last couple minutes was a very good unconventional film, with very solid acting, directing, and writing. But, a film’s ending consistently seems to be the hardest part to create. Hell, even geniuses like Monty Python had trouble with it!
When the writer of The Source Code (Ben Ripley) was interviewed, he talked about how because he was inexperienced on major Hollywood projects the screenplay was taken out of his hands. He wasn’t bitter about it (this was a career making film for him), but he described how his ending was changed. He called the freeze frame kiss “the perfect moment” to end the film on, but instead we get what I consider Wayne World’s ‘Mega Happy Ending.’ Obviously the studio and add-on writers thought that ending the movie with a tourist video for Millennium Park would be superior to an ambiguous or emotional ending.
The original ending point would have created a much more powerful conclusion because it reflects the actions and motivations of Coulter’s character. Coulter was a hero; he refused to return home, and by staying in Afghanistan for another tour he saved at least one member of his crew. If the film ends during his ‘perfect moment’ then these traits from before his death are reinforced by his actions after his death. He had already prevented the Chicago bombing, but he knew he could do more. He was determined to go back and save the people on the train. He was prepared for death, he reconciled with his father, he saved the day, and he got the girl. He was at peace. When his life support was removed he had regained his honor and had once again sacrificed himself for others in the hope that preventing that bombing it would have an effect in some other dimension. This selflessness is much more powerful than seeing Coulter gallivanting around in the body of poor Sean Fentress.
An alternative to ending the film on the kiss would be to depict Sean and the other people on the train going about their lives. This ensures that the audience knows that Coulter saved real people, not just shadows of a reality.
But, the best ending probably would have incorporated several types of endings. Embracing ambiguity, The Source Code could have ended on a ‘did it fall?’ Inception type ending. In this ending Coulter’s life support would be removed, and the film ends with a glimpse of Coulter/Sean looking surprised. This way the audience knows the train has been saved, but the audience is uncertain whether it is Coulter who will live on in Sean’s body.
When moral purist Roman Polanski was creating Chinatown he had to fight and scrape to maintain the film’s ending. The devastatingly powerful conclusion that I will never forget was an eyelash away from never occurring. Others involved in making the film wanted an upbeat conclusion. I am quite certain that I would not view Chinatown in such high esteem if the film ended with Nicholson and Dunaway strolling Chinatown arm and arm, expelling his old demons. And because Ben Ripley failed to maintain his original ending, I think Source Code missed its opportunity to be a great film.
It was unintentional that I wrote earlier about Inception, but these two films have much in common. Both have great leads who are battling inner demons in the midst of abstract realities and chaotic action scenes. Inception has superior visuals while The Source Code may have the more interesting concept. I think I enjoyed Inception more, but multiple viewings are needed.
And I have just one thought on Zac and Lauren’s Source Code Dissection post. I disagree that Coulter is time traveling and changing his own reality. The Source Code links to parallel realities, Dr. Rutledge assumed these realities had no future and no past, but he is proven wrong. This is why we see one Coulter on life support at the end, and in that same reality the original Coulter has taken control of Sean’s body.
Anyway, it was a really good movie and I have a feeling that this post will create more interesting conversation…