As I like sci-fi and enjoyed Moon, I looked forward to seeing this film, Duncan Jones’ second feature. I have trouble saying if sci-fi fans will really like this. In some ways, it’s a typical Hollywood sci-fi thriller (which is not a compliment), but there are potentially interesting issues the film raises, although nothing really new, either. Personally, I found the film fairly predictable and my sense is the treatment of some of the issues aren’t very fresh and insightful.
Having said that, I enjoyed the film, which surprised me a bit. Maybe I was in a more optimistic mood; maybe I just liked Michelle Monaghan. I don’t know. Anyway, the other thing I wanted to do was to sort out the way the source code worked and what happened at the end (spoilers). Here is how I understand things right now:
>The source code is a technology that allows people to capture the last eight minutes of someone’s life—something akin to video recording it. So, one can experience and live these eight minutes over and over again. (Does that mean that the teacher that Colter “lives” through is also being kept alive somewhere? If not, how do they capture the last eight minutes of the train wreck?)
>How did the parallel realities tie into the source code? Does the replaying of the last eight minutes depend on tapping into alternate realities/universes? Therefore, when Colter saves the passengers, this reality continues on?
>Btw, what was the meaning of the last lines in the film? I’m thinking of when Colter tells Goodwin to tell the Colter (in the chamber) that "everything will be alright). What happens at that point? Is the “real” Colter in an alternate universe living happily ever after with Christina? But isn’t the Colter in the chamber at the end a different and separate “Colter?” How can everything be alright, if so?
Any other loose ends I missed?
I think it’s a big problem. OK – so you can relive the last eight minutes of one person. I do not see why, in any way, that would allow you “free reign” over that “reality” in that time. How could the experience of those eight minutes be any different than the memories of the dead passenger? For that matter, sending the text message and changing real reality is a further impossibility. I think these are more than loose ends… they’re gaping plot holes.
That said, I didn’t mind the film. You just have to forget that it’s totally illogical.
I think it’s a big problem. OK – so you can relive the last eight minutes of one person. I do not see why, in any way, that would allow you “free reign” over that “reality” in that time.
My understanding is that each relived episode is occurs in a separate reality. So, it’s not really the memory that is being played over again. Maybe the memory is used to reconstruct the situation and somehow the scientist (Jeffrey Wright’s character) has found a way to reconstruct this memory in an alternate universe.
But if these are separate realities/universes, then I don’t think Colter would be able to send a message to “himself” in another reality.
Agreed, it’s a bit messy even though I thought it was pretty great (not as great as Moon). However, I don’t think he sends a message to a different reality. It’s the same reality, cause the train bomb happens before the source code. So Colter sends a message in that reality, before any of that begins to happen in THAT reality.
That said, my biggest question is how would Colter go on living as Sean? Does he have his memories, like his ATM code? How will he get money? How will he work? Will he recognize his parents? In the scheme of things, this seems like a movie thats best not to question (which I’m ok with) and is more of fun and intriguing action/sci fi flick. Definitely not the powerhouse Moon was, but I think Jones made a fine follow up.
It’s an odd one – any contingency I can imagine doesn’t satisfy me, though.. Colter is told numerous times through the film that he cannot change reality. “It doesn’t work that way.” Also – if he truly were entering “alternate realities,” it would devalue the purpose of the Source Code in the first place… because any information he picked up about the identity of the bomber would be irrelevant to the “true reality” that Colter continually returns to… you with me?
So maybe, you say, they only become “alternate realities” once he affects them and changes their respective courses..? But as soon as he is there, he is already changing everything. I don’t see how Source Code could allow any person to be more than a passenger – very much like in Being John Malkovich.
It’s the same reality, cause the train bomb happens before the source code. So Colter sends a message in that reality, before any of that begins to happen in THAT reality.
But Colter is texting in the train, right? If so, he’s in a different reality.
Colter is told numerous times through the film that he cannot change reality. “It doesn’t work that way."
Right, but my take is that Wright’s character doesn’t fully understand the way he’s tapping into alternate realities. (He does mention using alternate realities, right?)
if he truly were entering “alternate realities,” it would devalue the purpose of the Source Code in the first place… because any information he picked up about the identity of the bomber would be irrelevant to the “true reality” that Colter continually returns to
Why would the indentity of the bomber be irrelevant? The primary differences between the realities, as I understand it, is that the people behave differently…then again, who is to say that an alternate reality/universe has to have different outcomes (i.e. isn’t it possible to have two realities where basically the same thing happens)?
So maybe, you say, they only become “alternate realities” once he affects them and changes their respective courses..?
I’m suggesting that the alternate reality is more like an alternate universe—i.e. an alternate space and time—which may or may not be different from others. (It’s only different in that it is a different space and time, waiting to be filled in?)
But as soon as he is there, he is already changing everything…
Right. So every time Colter experiences the last eight minutes, these are separate realities; each one continues on. That’s how I’m understanding it, anyway.
OK, I see. So maybe Wright found a way to tap into alternate realities without knowing it. That still would be irrelevant to Vera Farmiga’s reality at the end of the film, and you intimated.
That still would be irrelevant to Vera Farmiga’s reality at the end of the film, and you intimated.
It’s a problem!
Yeah, it is. What else did Colter’s message say besides, “Tell him everything will be alright?”
I was talking to a friend about this film. Some questions/comments regarding the problem with Goodwin receiving Colter’s message:
1. Is the Goodwin receiving Colter’s message the Goodwin in the reality/universe where Colter becomes Sean and lives “happily ever after” with Christina? If so, then that avoids the problem of sending a message from one reality/universe to another;
2. Does Goodwin receive the message after the train was supposed to have blown up? If so, then this would fit. (If not, I’m confused again.)
But even if 1 and 2 are correct, that leaves the question of the what happens to the Colter in the chamber? Are there now two Colters—one in Sean and the other in the chamber?
Yeah . . . branching realities . . . the many-worlds interpretation
It’s a mix of
- Solipsism. The world is what one experiences inside his head, therefore inseparable from our subjective senses,
- The Sisyphus myth. Life is a never-ending struggle,
- The Cave from Plato’s Republic. We are in the darkness of our mind and can only guess what the outside world is like – notice how the City is always on the horizon, unreachable,
- Buddhist immortal soul being reborn from one reality to another,
- and the contemporary political oppression over the individual. The soldier is forced to carry out missions he doesn’t understand.
Okay, so first of all it is clear that the ending is meant to be a cheerful happy ending in that sort of Hollywood mode, instead of just leaving us with a dead soldier who we’ve spent two hours with inside his own head. I am not sure just letting him die would have been very satisfying, and for what it’s worth, despite the cliched deus ex machina feel behind such an ending, I think it still works. Here’s why.
Duncan Jones in both movies Moon and Source Code play up familiar science fiction conventions but with a dedicated eye to the character and his predicament—NOT the functions and exposition behind it. So in Moon we never really understand “how” the cloning is supposed to work or the energy is sent back to the Earth or any of that, as its not what the movie is about. The movie is about a guy who learns he is a clone with an expiration date trapped on the friggin’ Moon. The “science” part of the science fiction is insignificant to its premise, it just sets the stage.
Same thing in Source Code, though of course it causes people a bit more problems because of its more real-world setting. If we were to go rehearse the memory literal, then when the guy takes over the memories and tries walking into a part of the world he didn’t experience, it would be fractured or empty of detail or unrealistic or an imagining. This doesn’t really work with the plot but as the boss mentions, neither does time travel. We throw ourselves into quantum realities, which is a realm misunderstood by most laypeople, and we’ve an hour and a half long thriller to get through it without belabored points on obscure and very abstract science. Remember that this is a story about a man stuck in a machine, trying to stop a bomb. If we accept that he takes over the memories of another man and has eight minutes of quantum life to live in repeat, we can accept that when that eight minutes is broached a new quantum universe begins. It makes sense to me. If he can see the bomb the guy whose memories he’s taking over never saw, he can live on in an alternative reality.
So Miasma brings up Being John Malkovich . I’d say this is more Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The characters run away through his memories in that movie, even going into memories they shouldn’t be in. I sat in anticipation on seeing how the subject of memories’ limitations were to be breached, and once it was clear that despite the expositional line, this IS time-travel, I rejected the notion that Colter is limited to memory. That would be a different movie altogether, one I wouldn’t mind seeing, but with entirely different functions and meaning. I like what we’ve got here.
Once the alternative future is set and the bomb doesn’t go off, the purpose of the text message is to tell Goodwin that the project she’s on is a success, in fact so successful that it currently hasn’t been in operation because previous disasters its prevented were prevented. Again, I find this to be a pretty savvy point, especially in light of the whole “Was the space shuttle worth it?” debate happening now that the space shuttle has been retired. People often criticize scientific institutions for not actually achieving anything but sometimes what they are trying to achieve is looking forward to something in the future, whether it be something we may need or potential other things we might be able to do—and sometimes scientists find out that we can’t do it, or that we won’t need it, or whatever. In a situation in which a disaster time-travel prevention committee is set up, how can we ever prove if it’s successful? If a disaster happens, it isn’t, and if none happens, uh…
As for Colter living the life of someone else re: ATM numbers and stuff, I did think about that too and found it fun to think about, a sort of part of the experience, the way The Breakfast Club makes you wonder how Monday is going to go though you know you never want to see the movie that describes it. At some point Michelle Monaghue’s character is going to realize that this guy she’s in love with is not the same guy she’s been talking to, or maybe just assume she thought wrong, and who knows how their relationship will go. I find that to be a satisfying secondary note to an otherwise “and they lived happily ever after” ending. Now that the events of the world can be changed after the fact by this new technology, who is to say the fates of men are still under control?
Old school science fiction, is what Duncan Jones does. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Been meaning to check this out along with the recent glut of Philip K. Dick adaptations not based on Philip K. Dick material. The MALKOVICH and SUNSHINE references above do nothing to alter my suspicions.
The Malkovich and Sunshine references have little to do with the actual movie. The Malkovich point was pulled up in terms of how one would expect a reliving of memory to go—more as passenger, instead of driver, of the vehicle of perception. I made the Sunshine counterpoint to explain the mode the movie chose—more driver, less passenger. Source Code is really unlike both movies, and doesn’t have them in mind.
I liked the film quite a bit even though it’s not original in the least. I personally think the end was similar to Moon’s ending.
Colter, Goodwin and the rest are going to relive these events for the rest of time.
My memory of the film is fuzzy now, but why do you think Colter lives “these events for the rest of time.” The ending suggests that Colter lives a new life with in the other guy’s body, doesn’t it?
As I remember it, the film suggests that Stevens lives on in different branch of reality from the one that Goodwin, Rutledge, and the rest continue on in.
I believe the real Colter lives one reality while another Colter, Goodwin and Rutledge live the same reality over and over again until the end of time.
…while another Colter, Goodwin and Rutledge live the same reality over and over again until the end of time.
But isn’t the Goodwin allow Colter (not the “real one”) to die? When you say, “living the reality over and over again” do you mean the train incident? ?
Eh. Think of it like the bomb going off is a wrong turn. The car loops back over and over, yes, but once it finally manages to hit that turn it’s not looping anymore. A basic assumption in time travel is that when you change the events, you delete the future consequences. Some movies play more with the concept of diverging timelines as diverging realities or universes, like Uncertainty and Sliding Doors , but in most of those cases the point is that whereas the events change, the underlying characteristics or fate of the characters remain the same—they end up coming to the same end. For narrative clarity, in time travel the audience typically has to exit the theatre in one reality, the other ones being closed.
There is one interesting plot hole in THAT sense, and that is the time he gets off the train to chase down the terrorist, only to get shot outside. In THAT case, it should have erased the body from the train during the explosion itself, not registering that person amongst the dead, thus suddenly Colter would have to be rewired to enter in a different body (if possible, since a distinct point was made about the compatibility of bodies). That hole is forgiven in that the body would still register amongst the dead when found in the parking lot—BUT at that point the use of that body as Colter’s gateway into the memory would have a substantially different motivation as regards the department running the experiment. They would now assume outright that the body had something to do with the explosion, either collaborating with or trying to prevent the terrorist. It would change the dynamics on how Colter was introduced to his role as investigator. But again, for narrative cohesion and getting to the point, it’s probably better the movie not have to retread again. That’s one of its best aspects, in fact, it’s moving ahead with each loop.
In most cases, the explosion would happen with Colter and girlfriend on board equally every time, leading to the linear retries that Colter goes through as egged along by Goodwin. It’s only when you launch them off the train and they do not die or at least not in the same situation that changes enough of the details of the explosion being investigated, as to substantially alter the process of the investigation.
SO, the point in the end is not a merging of mixed realities or diverging thereof, it’s an acknowledgment that when the actual investigation is successful and the explosion is prevented, the group no longer has an explosion to investigate. They still have Colter ready for that “some day” eventuality, but Colter the second born lasts as the only and sole consciousness of an alternative reality. It is his decision to inform Goodwin that the investigation was successful, so that the department keeps on running… as well as tell Goodwin to take good care of Colter the unborn.
Which again I think is one of this movies most savvy elements of all. The ends of both Moon and Source Code provide the opening up to social awareness the conflict that within the movies are dedicated and focused squarely on the individual. Moon’s social reveal felt just thrown in there for good measure, but Source Code’s makes the ending FUN.
Because let’s think of this. The space shuttle has been retired and pretty much all of the coverage of that event has asked the question, “Was the shuttle worth the expense?” This is one of those questions that would have been brought up anyway as a matter of good reporting but in this particular historical setting, it comes tinged with an awareness of government cutbacks and angry tax payers sad that “their money” is being used for something bigger and more important than themselves (sorry, personal bit of ire I couldn’t not get in there). Anyway, in terms of immediate practical concerns, no, sadly, the space shuttle hasn’t brought us gold mines on the moon, helped us reach extraterrestrial species, etc. However its help and function in science and discovery is incalculable.
And that’s just something that is concrete and can be debated using real research. Now imagine a government facility set up to prevent disasters from happening via time-traveling marines. In addition to the HUGE expense of R&D and maintaining the facilities, everytime a disaster occurs there would be some motherfucker with a chip in his shoulder yelling, “WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP THIS?!” Like, Katrina would be held as evidence of the monetary waste of this facility, despite the fact that no amount of eight-minute looping memory soldiers would be able to do a damned thing about it. However, if the experiment was ever successful it would be improvable. There would be no disaster, so nobody would notice the not disaster that didn’t happen. This is skipping right past the ethical and religious debates that would occur and go right down to the practicalities. You and me would be on this here website, if we heard of this thing existing, debating endlessly on its feasibility. 1984 would be brought up. That’s assuming we heard of it at all, which it could be hidden, but for how long? And at what cost?
So Colter’s little text message is invaluable. It does bring up a new, fun issue. Now the non disasters that didn’t happen are reported on by the department because their man Colter keeps texting them periodically saying, “Yup, last one worked, hold my body in there a little longer!” Yeah, and uh what non-departmental bureaucrat and possible public would take random mysterious text messages from diverse people as fact that anything “happened”, especially since distrust of the government is anywhere from an endemic part of our cultural consciousness to an outright hobby. You could INTERVIEW the people claiming to be Colter, and as they added up it would be interesting for them to meet, but still the skeptics would cry foul and claim an act. Conspiracy theorists would claim Colter’s in their families and selves, further mucking up the issue.
That’s what happens at the end, or what the ending is looking forward/alluding to. All of this is a more specific, in my mind poignant, “the time travelers would eliminate time travel” theme. Looping Colter, the guy reliving the same eight minutes over and over, is gone. The fact of his survival is the ending.
One interesting feature of the project in the film is that if it’s successful, it’s also apparently self-eradicating, because it erases (at least, partially erase) its own justification for existing.
It sort of makes for an interesting parallel to the post-9/11 “security” paradigm in the U.S. If there’s not another terrorist attack in the U.S., is it because the strategy is working or is it primarily something else?
YES. Awesome example.