WARNING. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY SEEN SOURCE CODE. SPOLIERS-ARAMA.
By its very nature, Science-Fiction films are open to personal interpretation and don’t need to be grounded in reality. If we start watching SF films like we would a historical drama, picking out what we consider obvious plot holes or goofs, then we are , in effect, missing the whole point of what SF films set out to achieve. These are films that are meant to show the unknown and the abnormal, events and situations that aren’t typical to our every day lives.
With Source Code, I did, at first, have serious reservations about it’s ending owing to the fact that it doesn’t abide by the ‘rules’ set out by the scientists earlier on in the film. The main concept of the film wasn’t in question though and in brief is thus: when someone dies, the brain stays semi-alive for a brief moment after death thus allowing clever scientist types to plug into the last 8 minutes of their memory and allow another human brain to re-live that 8 minutes as the initial person.
This initially made me work on the assumption that what the scientists had in effect created was a ‘simulation’ of sorts, an 8 minute fully immersive replication in which normal physical rules apply and the person entering can alter the events of that simulation, but they will be there only for 8 minutes. This is the explanation given by the military scientists in the film. We are told by them that Captain Colter Stevens is merely re-living the final 8 minutes of one Sean Fentress’s life. The events Colter is repeatedly re-living have already happened, this is just a ‘shadow’ of what has already come to pass.
So at the film’s conclusion, Colter has solved the mystery and saved the day within the Source Code. This means that in original reality, the second bomb attack is scuppered as the military can now locate the bomber using Colter’s information. His job done, the original Colter, lying near enough dead in the military lab, has no purpose to keep revisiting the same 8 minutes via the Source Code. So when Officer Goodwin presses the big red button and thus terminates Colter’s existence within the source code, she was in effect turning off his life support. Letting him die, as he requested.
Yet once the 8 minutes are up and the big red button is pushed, Colter doesn’t cease to exist as the film’s own logic would dictate. Instead we see Colter continue to exist in this separate reality, effectively usurping Sean Fentress’s physical body and living his life. Now going off the in-film logic spelt out to us by the scientists, this is impossible. They too clearly believed it was all merely a simulation that Colter was entering into. We know this is the case because Goodwin and her boss both assume they will lose Colter for good once the button is pushed and his life support is thus turned off. He will be completely, 100%, dead. They don’t believe he will live on in another reality. The film’s scientists, who have fed us the knowledge we needed to follow the plot thus far, would appear to be wrong.
This is in itself a rarity for a Sci-Fi film, as normally whilst a movie may not abide by our own rules of time and space, they do operate within their own set of rules. So, for example, in Inception, if you die in a dream, you die in real life and in Back to the Future if you cease to exist in the past then you are erased from the present. These are Sci-Fi concepts that are not really relevant to our own universe, but they are cast iron facts in the films themselves. Here though, the films own sense of logic is proven wrong.
The obvious explanation for why this happens is that the scientists themselves simply didn’t understand the Source Code technology they had created. They did not know that what they were actually creating each time they send Colter back to re-live Sean’s final 8 minutes was in fact another parallel universe operating entirely without interference from their own.
So in their original universe, the first bomb has already gone off but the second attack is stopped, Colter’s plug is pulled and his physical body is allowed to die. In this new universe however, both bombs are stopped, original universe Colter remains as Sean for the rest of his life, and new universe Colter remains in a box with the military waiting to try out the Source Code technology.
Granted, this makes some degree of sense and is a perfectly acceptable explanation for what happens at the film’s end, but for me it was still not very well executed. Source Code was a great film for an hour, and then a mediocre one for the last 20 or so minutes. The initial premise was new and innovative and really kept you guessing. The final act however just felt a little forced, almost tacked on to ensure a happy ending. Even if this isn’t the case, it completely shifts the tone and emphasis of the film as a whole. What starts out as Groundhog Day meets Quantam Leap, becomes more than a little bit Donnie Darko, with alternate realities now the order of the day.
The film as a whole was perfectly fine, definitely above average and Gyllenhall was faultless in the lead role. It just felt a bit underwhleming by th end, leaving you to fill in a lot of blanks yourself and forcing you to make a lot of assumptions. To its credit, it’s a film that makes you think and sticks in your head for a few days after you see it. Personally, I went away and read up on the film and took on board several interpretations of what the ending means. The fact that a film can make you do this is surely only a good thing as it’s talking points like these that make movies worth watching.
It isn’t the slightly blurred ending to the plot I object to though as such, more it’s execution. There are some endings to films that are left open to interpretation as they are thought-provoking and deliberately set out to leave you wondering what has happened. There are some however, like this one, that just seem to be rushed and require you to fill in blanks yourself mainly because the filmmakers themselves didn’t get round to doing so.
Anyway, it’s well worth a watch, but for me the pre-release hype was not quite lived up to. The complex science fiction at work here is skirted around rather freely and the ending actually feels a little anti-climatic rather that rousing as the director presumably intended. Perhaps it will improve on future viewings, but I still left my screening feeling rather underwhelmed.
Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Runtime: 93 min
Country: USA, France