Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

28 Apr 2011

(2011 Movie) Source Code, directed by: Duncan Jones

(Reaction) Not Everything Will Be Okay by: Antonio Conejos

Source Code is a seemingly happy movie, one where good triumphs unequivocally over evil. First, the good guys manage to win out over the machinations of those in authority. This is the triumph of Colter Stevens and Colleen Goodwin over the vainglorious Dr. Rutledge. Rutledge is manipulative and would play off Stevens's patriotism in order to keep using the soldier for further missions.

Moreover, Rutledge's thoughts are on the success of his brainchild - source code. In the reality where the train does not explode (for purposes of this reaction this will be Reality B) he seems almost bitter that he did not have the opportunity to try out his invention; then he goes back to combing his thinning hair, without a thought for the lives that have been saved and those that would be endangered by a terrorist attack.

That the common soldier's virtues, exemplified by Stevens and Goodwin, are often taken advantaged of by their less scrupulous superiors is a well known trope, seen in many movies and literature. Where the soldier is honorable and decent, those in authority are corrupt and base. Indeed, Rutledge does not even keep the most basic of promises and refuses to let Stevens die.

Second, the good guys also manage to stymie the terrorist attacks of the mad bomber (I'll call the reality where the bombing of the train does take place as Reality A). Stevens repeatedly states throughout the movie, everything is going to be ok. At first this is a tentative assertion, made as if Stevens is trying to convince himself of this fact. As the film progresses though, and his confidence in himself grows, the statement is said with more assurance. The sentiment is echoed as well by Christina Warren.

Aside from the references in the plot and script to an optimistic ending, there are also visual cues to this conclusion found in the film. Specifically, the image of Stevens and Warren standing before a vaguely egg shaped structure with them and the surroundings distorted, is repeatedly periodically throughout the film. At the end of the film, set in Reality B, we know that this is Stevens and Warren standing together in a park, enjoying the day together.

That this visual cue usually occurs when Stevens makes the jump between Reality A to Reality B, suggests that this image of happiness is the inevitable outcome of his work in the two realities. To put it simply, Stevens' story cannot end any other way but happily. Fate has decreed that, through a fusion of science (source code) and human tenacity (Stevens), it is possible to end suffering (to prevent the dirty bomb explosion in both realities as well as prevent the train bombing in Reality B).

However, just as the film inexorably brings Stevens and Warren together, it also leads inexorably to the death of two individuals. The demise of these two is assured and immutable, they cannot be saved even with the resources of source code. Thus, the movie, while seemingly presenting a vision that fate can be cheated and happiness for all is attainable, affirms that in all systems (even the most seemingly hopeful ones) some suffering is still present.

The first individual who cannot be saved is Sean Fentress, the teacher whom Stevens inhabits. Whoever Fentress was, his personality, hopes and desires, are gone forever as he he must die in order for Stevens to inhabit his body and complete his mission.

Ironically the second person who cannot be saved is Stevens himself. No matter how many times he jumps from one reality to another, there always be one version of himself bisected in two, lying in a lab in a military base, dead. This dead Stevens, one who is chained to the source code, is the basis for all the other versions of himself running around who are free and happy.

Thus source code may present the notion that one's life, no matter how ill-fated it appears to be, is destined to turn out all right. However, the colorally notion to that is that there are those who are forever fated to suffer; and one's happiness is born out of their loss.


An enjoyable movie that failed me (or I failed it) when I couldn't come aboard how source code works. While sci-fi is inherently a genre where one must suspend one's disbelief, the story itself must still be credible. For me, Source Code breaks this tenuous hold on verisimilitude because how it didn't support it's underlying happy ending; ie. it insisted that it was not a movie on time travel (Dr. Rutledge points out something to the effect that it's not time travel but time relocation) but it wanted the possibility of a happy ending which time travel can provide.

At the most source code would be an extreme extrapolation of memories based on a dead man's knowledge. Colter Steven's job is to inhabit this extrapolation, this simulation, interact with it and find out what he can. Yet is strains my credulity that this extrapolation could extend very much beyond what Sean Fentress (the dead man who Stevens inhabits) himself experienced. Thus there is very little basis for the happy ending on which the film insists on.

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