Friday, June 29, 2012

Film Friday: Source Code (2011)

I see why Source Code made a good deal of money. You’ve got the kind of science fiction premise which makes people think something deep is going on, even though there isn’t. That makes people feel smart. You’ve got an up and coming star who is being pushed as a blockbuster hero, a real Ethan Hawk. The film is pretty and has lot of big explosions. But this isn’t a very good film. Here’s why.

** spoiler alert **

Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Capt. Colter Stevens, an Army chopper pilot who thinks he’s in Afghanistan, but soon discovers he’s in a capsule of some sort. Before he even knows what’s happening, Jake gets sent back in time to eight minutes before a commuter train blows up outside of Chicago. Once there, he quickly discovers he’s inhabiting the body of a man who was on the train. His mission is to locate the bomber because the bomber plans to explode a dirty bomb in Chicago later in the day. At first, Stevens has a hard time understanding what is happening. But slowly, he accepts the mission. Then the “big secret” is revealed, I yawned, the movie played out exactly per formula, and the credits did roll mightily.
Source Code should have been a good movie, but it wasn’t because it was beset by several problems which just smothered the film. Jake Gyllenhaal is about as believable as Capt. Stevens as Denise Richards was believable as a nuclear scientist. The film crawls with product placements to the point that they become distracting. You can actually play “find the Dunkin Donuts logo” in each scene. The science fiction behind the idea was nonsense and felt like nonsense. The bad guy sucks. But most importantly, this film undercut itself time and again.

Let’s start with the bad guy. This guy is awful. He looks like something out of Office Space and he’s far less menacing. He’s a nerd who want to kill millions of people because that’s what the plot requires. Indeed, when he’s asked to explain why he’s doing this, all he manages to babble is something about people being bad or something like that. Nor does Mr. Dull seem competent enough to put together the dirty bomb Jake is looking for. Did he find the plans online? Did he scrape the radioactive material from the copier at work? The film doesn’t go into “how” at all, but it seems fairly clear this idiot couldn’t build a bomb. And why the heck did he blow up the train at all if his real goal was to blow up the dirty bomb a few hours later? I can’t imagine why anyone would do that? Do bank robbers rob liquor stores on the way to the big robbery as a warm up? Always stretch!

Gyllenhaal similarly strains credibility throughout. First, there is nothing about Jake which lets us think he’s a pilot. Military pilots are always in complete in control. They are confident, dare I say cocky? They are Type-A personalities with exacting attention to detail. Yet, when you first meet Jake, he acts like he’s intimidated by rank, like some kid fresh out of training. Then he decides the mission is really a simulation so he goes goofy and treats it like a kid playing a videogame. Then he alternates between stupid and whiny, taking pointless and poorly thought-out risks, and he flops all over the place emotionally. Not once does he show military discipline or show the kind of confidence military training and combat experience bring. Nor does he have the slightest chemistry with either Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who he falls deeply in love with in eight minutes, or Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), his controller who decides this program is wrong for no reason whatsoever except that it helps the plot.

Even worse, however, Jake is told that he cannot save the people on the train because of something-something [fake scientific term] something-something. But Jake decides he knows better, based on nothing more than wanting it to be true. So he insists he’s going to save these people despite the scientists telling him that’s impossible. Naturally, he’s right and they are wrong because that’s how the movie wants it to be. There is no reason to think Jake would be right, nor is there anything which causes this belief in Jake. He just decides that he can do it, and so shall it be because the hero gets what he wants. No attempt is even made to explain how this could work (or how the ending works), it just IS because that’s the ending the writer wanted. That’s pathetic writing.

This type of writing-failure is actually a problem throughout. When Jake acts up on the train, the reactions of the other characters feel like movie characters rather than real people. They protest just enough to let him deliver his lines while looking tough, and then sit quietly as he does what he needs to before he moves on to mess with the next person. Nobody calls the conductor or cops or attacks him. When we find out “the secret” (that Jake is actually dead), we suddenly get treated to this “I need to talk to my father” subplot which Jake isn’t able to sell convincingly. Of course, Jake gets his hands on a phone and calls his father while in the other body, and his father gives the perfect responses (without a hiccup) to resolve this issue happily within the deadline Jake needs.

Moreover, the science is flaky. And even worse, it feels flaky and they know it, so they try to hide it behind evasions: “you wouldn’t understand if explained it.” Basically, this program lets Jake occupy the body of anyone who died, somehow, but he can only occupy it for eight minutes, for some reason. How does he do this and why only dead people, you ask? That would require complex physics to explain. . . you wouldn’t understand. When he’s in that body, he can move around and interact with the people of that time, i.e. changing the time line, but he’s not changing the timeline, he’s really causing new dimensions to form. I’d explain it to you, but you’d need a PhD to understand. Oh, but wait, it turns out he actually can change time, for some reason, and he can stay in the body of the guy who never really died now. Don’t ask me to explain it, though, you wouldn’t understand.

This is a sign of a writer who has no clue (0.0%) of how his idea is supposed to work. And it gets really annoying to hear Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who invented the Source Code Program, be incapable of explaining how this works and then giving mental placebos like saying this isn’t time travel, “it’s time rearrangement.” This very much undermines the film because they never establish any real rules for what is going on, so you don’t know what is really possible or what isn’t or why things happen.

But the real problem at the core of this film is the utter lack of consequences. We are told that everyone onboard the train died and that Jake cannot save them. This turns out not to be true, but we don’t discover that until the end. So for the first hour plus, you never really worry about the characters on the train because you know they will be dead no matter what Jake does. And later, you don’t worry about whether or not they will be saved because this film makes it clear Jake will get whatever he wants. We are also told up front that there is no danger to Jake, so we don’t worry about that either. Nor do his actions travel over into future loops, where they could have negative consequences, nor is there a limit on the number of jumps he can make. Essentially, there is zero risk. Indeed, the only possible negative consequence is that some nerd may set off a dirty bomb in Chicago, but we know this film won’t let that happen. Nor are we shown anyone who would really be in danger from such a bomb, so this risk never feels real to us. Similarly, the big secret is that Jake is already dead, which is supposed to create some moral dilemma. Only, they never really explain why this is a problem. Also, there really isn’t any tension because wanting to die is hard to support (especially as he's not suffering), and because Capt. Goodwin decides to help him die for no reason. So again we know Jake will get his wish.

You see the problem? No one can really get hurt in this film because we’re told everything is inevitable and we aren’t given clues that events could really be changed. Moreover, everything in this film comes so easily to Jake that there’s no suspense that he won’t get what he wants, especially as he can just keep trying until he gets it. That sucks the drama right out of the plot.

This is why Source Code stinks. It completely lacks suspense, it lacks interesting characters, difficult choices, recognizable motives, and the big idea science fiction films always try to send you home with. . . the “what if” thought. This film is Groundhog Day without the growth, the humor, or the humanity.


tryanmax said...

Wow! I saw the film and agree it sucks based just on the absence of believable science. But from a plot perspective, it's just about every liberal trope rolled into one film:

- Hero gets what he wants because he wants it
- The novice is smarter than the professional (with shades of youth-power)
- Everything choice is consequence-free
- Everything is inevitable (except where it isn't)
- Military people are not disciplined and are in fact loose cannons
- Evil is easily identifiable and motiveless
- BONUS: a pro-euthanasia message

DUQ said...

tryanmax, That's very observant! There's even a minor sucker punch when the girlfriend accuses him of racial profiling.

Doc Whoa said...

I skipped this for political reasons and I see I made the right decision whatever the reasoning. This sounds like so many other movies these days, with a promising idea in the abstract which ends up being tosses at the audience with no thought and no care.

Doc Whoa said...

Also, I love your comparison of Jake G to Ethan Hawk. He's another guy they kept jamming into movies even as people weren't watching them and it was like Hollywood was determind to make us like him.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think the film sucked from lack of believability all around. The science was totally flaky. Jake was not credible. The behavior of the other characters was not credible. The behavior of Rutledge was not credible. The bad guy was not credible. That doesn't leave you with much.

As for the politics, this film completely traffics in liberal ideas and you've pointed them all out, with the exception of "bad guys are insane and are always white guys." Basically all the liberal tropes are in this.

And don't forget the gun scene. They tell him he should get a gun, even though he's shown need for it. He goes and grabs it and immediately gets manhandled by the two conductors, then he whines about then telling him to get the gun. The message: guns are bad, only fools want them, and you should not ever try to use a gun because it can't protect you. (And don't forget, he actually should be trained in how to use them, but seems to have no idea how.)

I wouldn't say this film is political in the sense of having a heavy political message, but it's every instinct is deeply political.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I thought about mentioning that, but it actually didn't bother me as a sucker punch. Maybe it was just that it seemed so stupid when it was mentioned? Jake is hardly made out as a conservative "hater" before he goes after the Arab, so if he is profiling then it's not an accusation at any political group in particular. Plus, it seems clear he's going after the guy because he's getting off the train, not because of any race issue. So it seems stupid when she mentions it. Plus, she seems to be joking, which makes the whole scene sound like liberals being uncomfortable about race rather than any sort of political dig.

It may have been meant as a political dig, but it certainly lacked any sort of punch if it was.

AndrewPrice said...

DOC, I would rate this worse than most recent Hollywood films. Those at least nail down their concept before they begin shooting. Here the main battleplan seemed to be to evade all questions related to how this supposedly worked, how it really worked, and what was or wasn't possible. Essentially, this was a film which kept saying (in a very condescending way) "don't worry about it." And it did so to the point that you really never understand who could be saved and who couldn't, except that you know this film would reward Jake in the end.

DUQ said...

Andrew, I had that feeling throughout. It seemed liked no matter what Jake did, he was going to pull this off. There isn't a single moment where you doubt he will succeed. As you say, that's poor writing.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! I think the comparison is apt. I've seen little drawing power from Jake, just like with Hawk, yet Hollywood seems intent on cramming him into films just like they kept cramming Hawk into films. At some point soon, I'm pretty sure Jake will be dropped like a hot potato.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, It's hard to explain, but I felt it too. There just didn't seem to be the slightest chance that Jake wouldn't succeed. It seems like he could do anything and the other characters and random chance would bend in his favor, that he had as many chances as he needed, and that this ultimately wasn't really a challenge. The only thing making it a challenge was Jake's stupidity.

ellenB said...

Nice review, Andrew. I saw this and felt it was just blah. It never created the least bit of tension and I think you've outlined the reasons why very nicely.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ellen! It felt the same. I expected a lot more, either good or bad, from this film and I just found myself bored.

ellenB said...

That's how I felt, the film was just dull. No suspense.

Doc Whoa said...

Ellen and Andrew, You really make me want to see this film! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, I'm running into that a lot these days, where there is no suspense at all in so many modern films.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, If this doesn't make you want to see it, then I'm not sure what we can say to make you want to see it. LOL!

Doc Whoa said...

Strangely, Andrew, you are not making me want to see this!

I actually avoided it because everyone at BH said it was political. Is it political?

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It doesn't feel political, but it's tiring in the sense that it's always the same tropes. They evil military scientist, the undisciplined soldiers, the good guy is the liberal (his girlfriend in particular), the bad guy is of course a generic white guy. None of it is an obvious political statement, but it is annoying to see these same tired assumptions playing out once again.

ScyFyterry said...

I can't say I enjoyed this, but I didn't hate it. It just was and the minute it ended, I moved on with my life and never thought about it again. Would I recommend it? No.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's a good way to put it too. It's not a horrible movie or a movie which will make you angry, it's just dull.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, I'm sorry, I just realized I called you Ed. Whoops.

ScyFyterry said...

Not a problem, Andrew. I knew who you meant. :D

ScyFyterry said...

Also, I should add that I can't think of a single instance where I've liked Jake Gyllenhaal.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, I don't like him either. I don't like his far-left politics at all, but even worse, he just can't act. His range of emotion runs from "stupid to moron." He's never really fit a role, and I've never found him to be the least bit believable.

Tennessee Jed said...

Great review, Andrew. I have struggled for several years now with the notion of putting my money where my mouth is. As such, they lost me at "stars Jake Gyllenhaal, lib era activist." However, at least I don't mind skipping it based on your review.

Normally, this is the genre of movies where I don't expect a masterpiece and can still enjoy the film. Put mediocrity and Jake together and there are plenty of other films to watch instead.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Glad to be of service. :)

I'm in the same boat. There are a couple actors I just don't want to support and usually I don't, but sometimes I do want to see a particular movie. I did want to see this because I like science fiction.

BUT this was a total waste. It was dull, nonsensical and just all around a waste of time. To put it best, it felt tedious waiting for the ending we knew was coming from the first frame.

So you missed nothing skipping this one.

CrispyRice said...

Sounds very un-interesting!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Yep. That is it! :)

T-Rav said...

The idea of Jake Gyllenhaal as a "blockbuster action hero" makes me snort a little. Yeah, whatever.

I haven't watched this, so I don't know all the logic involved in the plot, but just from the previews I had a bad feeling about it. How do you fall in love with someone in eight minutes? Especially when you're supposed to be busy finding the bomber? And how can you even accomplish your mission in that length of time, anyway? And if you're repeating this over and over again, the girl's not going to remember you anyway. Sounds like this plot makes even less sense than a Supreme Court majority opinion (RIMSHOT!).

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's what they want you to believe. That's why they're cramming him into films like this and Prince of Persia when he's not really suited for any of it. It's just like with Ethan Hawk. Someone in Hollywood decided he will be a star and they're going to prove it to us no matter how much we ignore him.

Those are valid concerns about the story, by the way. The whole "falling in love" thing is awkward and poorly handled. It's kind of a love at first at first sight, even though she's apparently been sort of dating the guy whose body he's in... but now the love is real because he's suddenly so different. And yeah, she remembers nothing from loop to loop, but they kind of gloss over that.

As for completing his mission, it's really not that hard as he eventually shows. You just find the bomb, then take the cell phone detonator from the bomb and call the guy with the phone. Whoever has the phone which rings is the bad guy. And since we know there's only one bad guy, because there just is, that solves everything nicely. But before he hits upon that brainstorm, he spends loop after loop annoying people for no apparent reason.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Two for two. I will go out of my way to avoid movies starring Gyllenhaal or Hawke. L'il Jake hasn't done anything worth watching since Bubble Boy. Hawke is about as tough as Jello. Pffft. And now, with those plot and continuity holes, I won't even bother watching this one for free.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I recommend skipping this one. It isn't that it's horrible, it's just not worth seeing. And Jake is the primary reason because he stinks, and plot holes and silly plot are the icing on the turd.

Anonymous said...

Gee, what's with the Ethan Hawke hate? :-)

This movie's concept was interesting but, sadly, it was easily digestible and forgotten about. As much as I was disappointed with Prometheus, at least it's making some people think. This movie didn't. And some of the online critics were talking about it like it was some mind-bending Kubrickian masterpiece... which it wasn't.

As far as the political stuff goes (such as it is), I think it's more a problem with cliches. All of this stuff is so cliched now. If you want to be conservative, it seems lately all you have to do is subvert the cliches and there you go!

But BH made a mountain out of a molehill as usual. The bad guy was some white guy but he wasn't a Tea Partier, he didn't wear a Palin shirt, etc. I got more of a general anarchist vibe from him but the guy is so underdeveloped, I can't entirely blame people for projecting their own prejudices onto him.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I actually got no vibe out of him except "insane nerd." I honestly can't tell you what his motive was except that people are bad. I see no political affiliation or any real grievances.

As for the concept being interesting, I agree to the extent we are speaking in the abstract -- going back for short periods to solve a crime. That's interesting. But that was completely mishandled in this film. They struggled to avoid telling you anything about how this would work, or what the rules are, and then we were supposed to act surprised when the rules we don't know about turn out to be false. It was too fake to be at all meaningful.

In terms of this being mind-bending, give me a break. Only an idiot would think that. This movie couldn't be more straightforward. There isn't a twist or mind stretching moment.

DUQ said...

I don't remember much of the BH discussion of this film except the issue with the racial profiling. I take it that Scott thinks that was overblown? What do other people think?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I don't recall exactly what BH said either, but I don't think there's very much political meaning behind this film. They may have intended that, who knows, but they certainly didn't manage to get it across. There's just no there there with this one.

T-Rav said...

Just remember, it doesn't have to be political to be really, really stupid.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of racial profiling, there was another movie that came out five or six years ago called Flight Plan. It starred Jodie Foster and was basically Panic Room on a plane. I remember there were a couple of Middle Eastern passengers who were used as a red herring. BH didn't exist, nor did Nolte's old site, but Libertas had a problem with that and I guess some things never change.

I realize if this were a perfect world, movie/TV villains would come in all shapes and colors, and yeah it sucks that some people seemingly go out of there way NOT to offend certain groups. But on the other extreme, the Middle Eastern guy can't be the villain all the time either. The movie would be over in five minutes!

Andrew and DUQ - I don't remember everything BH mentioned about the film but I do remember disagreeing with it. (I think they assumed the villain was a Tea Partier because the box with the bomb in it was emblazoned with an American flag, but we really find out nothing about the guy. Another critic could just as easily assume he's with OWS.)

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

Too true! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Very, very true. And I don't know if this one tried to be political or not, but it certainly was stupid.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree that the villain doesn't always need to be an Arab, but that's not the point. The point is that they keep including this idea that somehow all the white people will suspect the Arabs just because we're racist. That's what bothers me, the idea that Hollywood keeps tossing this in there as an accusation.

On BH, yeah, I see nothing to suggest this guy is a Tea Party type. He struck me as just an insane nerd.

Patriot said...

What are Jake's politics? Doesn't look too intelligent....more of the brooding emo type that some lib babe would fall for. So I guess it wouldn't surprise me that he might be a Obamaton.....

And wasn't his character here a helicopter pilot? Not a fighter pilot? Big difference between the two.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Yes, he's a helicopter pilot. That's what I say in the article.

His politics are far, far left. Here is the mild statement from the Wikipedia on his politics:

Gyllenhaal has promoted various political and social causes. He has appeared in Rock the Vote advertising, campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, promoted environmental causes, and campaigned on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

T-Rav said...

And also, he starred in The Day After Tomorrow. And no doubt believed every bit of it.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, He did in fact travel to the arctic to promote the cause of global warming.

Unknown said...

There are more good but misunderstood Arabs in one Hollywood movie than there are in all of the Middle East. I'm fed up to the neck with these ridiculous portrayals. It's time to leave the Swedes who blew up the World Trade Center alone, along with the Italian Catholics who blew up the Bali disco and the English Jews who blew up the African embassies, and start portraying Islamists honestly.

My favorite bowdlerization and sanitized movie just happens to be on right now. I'm a big fan of Tom Clancy, but The Sum of All Fears made me want to throw up. Clancy should have demanded to have his name removed from the credits. The Russkies are portrayed as misunderstood, but the Arabs who use a nuke to blow up Baltimore become, aw crap, neo-Nazis. The only "bad" Arabs were the ones duped by the evil Nazis. The only upside is that they did nuke Baltimore.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I can't disagree with that at all. In the real world, the number of Swedish, German, British or non-descript European terrorists is pretty close to zero. Meanwhile, Muslims committed close to 80,000 terrorist attacks in the past couple years around the world.

Yet, outside of True Lies, the terrorists Hollywood portrays are pretty much 100% Anglo-European, and whoa-betide the filmmakers who dares to suggest that an Arab might be a terrorist instead of the most noble person on earth.

I get really sick of that. And then they have the nerve to accuse of us racial profiling!!

That's unacceptable.

USArtguy said...

I rarely see movies at first run theaters anymore and this is one I rented just a few weeks ago. I was in the rental store again just this past Thursday evening and walked passed the DVD. I knew I had recently watched it, but darn if I could remember anything about the movie! This movie is like some albums I have; sort of ok while you're listening, but as soon as the album is over you think "what did I just listen to?

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, I feel the same way. It's been about a week now and the movie is getting very hazy already. There is nothing to latch onto in this film.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent annihilation of a stupid movie, Andrew!

I concure it wasn't overtly political, or it didn't coherently come across that way.
In fact, it wasn't coherent at all.

I think Shia Labouf makes a better action hero than Jake the flake.
Not that I'm endorsing Labouf. Just sayin' he's more believable.

I don't understand why Hollywood wants to promote Jake so much. He has limited acting ability and absolutely no gravitas or charisma.

I do think Hawke is a better actor, but he's another actor that doesn't have much gravitas.
Not in anything I have seen him in. But he's marginally better than Jakey.

Tired and old cliches galore in this movie.
These cliches also happen to be popular liberal points of view, so I guess in that sense one could find this film political, but again, not in any way that is coherent.

And the plot is just..."because we said so, shut up! They're scientists man!"
The plot, suck as it is, is insulting to the viewer.

It's analogous to a song without any structure or boundaries and everyone just does what they want when they want.

Only this is worse because there's no talent to make up for it.
No one grabs your attention. Nothing is mildly interesting because from the get go the director insults the audience and keeps insulting.

"And for my next act, I'll pull another rabbit from my hat" kind of stuff.
No suspense, no logic or reason, just magic. So shut up!

I really hate when self described sci fi movies take an interesting idea and eviscerate it.
That would be bad enough but it actually kinda ruins it for serious sci fi directors that might wanna use that idea in the future.

That's why films like Triangle get overlooked because 98% of burmuda triangle films are garbage and no one expects another one to be any better.

I know that Triangle wasn't about the burmuda triangle but the title made it seem that way so I almost didn't watch it.
Only your review made me wanna see it.

That's what inept directors/producers/actors/writers do, they sometimes ruin it for good directors/producers/actors/writers. Which is a bummer because really good films get overlooked because of it.

And you're absolutely right, when tens of thousands of terrorist acts are committed by muslims one would think you would see that reflected in films that have terrorists in it.

Of course, if hollywood is to be believed 99% of terrorists are white, and usually right wing neo nazis (which makes no sense since nazis weren't right wing or conservative, but they want us to believe it), or christians or rich people.
So predictible and boring and stupid.

In this film the terrorist was white but I had no indication of his politics if he had any, other than the American flag thing which made no sense either, unless they were trying to say this guy was a self described patriot and patriotism is bad or something.

It's possible, I guess but it's never clear (like the entire movie...nothing is clear).

There should be a law prohibiting any future sci fi films unless there's a competent crew ready with a good story and characters we care about.

Okay, I keed, but there should be an asterik on the films that give sci fi a bad name.
That would sure save us a lot of time.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben! Nice comment!

I agree about Jake. I don't know why they want to promote him. He just doesn't have the gravitas to lend the credibility he needs to play basically anything. I think Ethan Hawk is the better actor, but again, he's only marginally better than Jake and he too just doesn't bring anything to a role. And as much as it pains me to say this, I agree with you that Shia is a better action star. Now I need a shower.

Nice way to put it, the plot is insulting to the audience. It really is. It's all so nebulous and based on nothing at all. And then they act all pissy whenever it comes time to explain it and they act like the problem is that the audience isn't smart enough to handle the explanation. That's insulting.

Totally agree about the long term effects of films like this. The more crap they produce under the science fiction label, the more people are likely to dismiss these films and the harder it becomes for the gems to really shine.

I'm glad to hear I got you to watch Triangle! I know we've been discussing it, but I didn't know you had seen it on my recommendation! That's cool! As I mention in the review, I almost didn't see it myself for the same reason -- Bermuda Triangle films stink. But I'm really glad I did. (As an aside, I watched it again last night and I noticed that the marching band uses the same symbol on their drums as the Aeolus uses AND her house number is the same as the room number on the ship where the writing is on the mirror and the room from The Shining! What a cool movie!

In terms of what the terrorists are, I honestly don't care, except that Hollywood makes me care by never making it anything except white, conservative men. It's stupid and it's offensive at this point.

I suspect the asterisk on this film will be that it will ultimately be forgotten.

whitsbrain said...

I've never commented here, but have been reading and enjoying this site for some time. I think I should contribute. I'm pasting my own review that I posted on Rotten Tomatoes and Pteforums on July 30, 2011 regarding this movie. Spoilers follow...

I got invested in the characters right from the start while viewing "Source Code". Jake Gyllenhaal is Captain Stevens and Michelle Monaghan plays Christina, both passengers on a commuter train headed to Chicago. The train explodes during its route and Captain Stevens "wakes up" in a dark capsule, is told a minimal amount of information, and is then sent back to the exact moment in time that we first saw him on the train. We learn that Stevens is on a military mission to find a bomb that killed everyone on board and that he must also find the person who planted the bomb because they are likely responsible for threatening to explode a dirty bomb in the middle of the city.

I really sunk myself into the plight of Stevens and fell for the cute Christina, not really thinking at all about the improbability of what was happening. Earlier in the movie, we learn that the 'Source Code' project allows one person to assume another person's mind for 8 minutes. So Stevens takes over the consciousness of a teacher, Sean, that was killed during the explosion. Turns out, Sean and Christina had a budding relationship and Stevens' mind has now replaced that of Sean. The whole idea is a lot like "Groundhog Day" with Stevens dying every 8 minutes and then going back to the same point to try and save the train and also thwart the upcoming bombing of Chicago. He searches for clues and mistakenly follows a couple of characters both on and off the train.

Suspending disbelief is a really subjective thing for me. Sometimes I'll allow myself to accept the most ridiculous premise and other times I'll question everything going on with a roll of the eyes and an accompanying groan. But in this case, I got myself caught up in the building relationship between the two main characters and I actually enjoyed myself. Then things started to fall apart.

whitsbrain said...


I first got miffed about what is now a growing Hollywood cliche. The terrorist who planted the bombs is a white male who is trying to "reduce the world to rubble". He's obviously an anti-Government wacko, in fact a patriotic wacko, because when Stevens finds the terrorist's dirty bomb, it's in a red, white and blue trunk. Stevens remarks "very patriotic". Ugh...could they have presented a safer, more politically correct bad guy? This snapped me into a more critical mindset and I started wondering, if Stevens has 'become' Sean, he would only be able to know what information Sean's experienced about the train. Sean was a teacher, a simple passenger yet somehow Stevens knows damned near everything about the train. He also leaves the train to follow a passenger he first suspects. Could he do that if Sean hadn't done it previously? Where is all of this information coming from? We've also learned that Captain Stevens actually died in a mission in Afghanistan, but he's in a sort of coma that is allowing his mind to be used for the Source Code project. Stevens also learns of his condition and struggles with it while still acting as Sean the teacher and trying to find the bomber.

Stevens eventually figures out who the bomber is, saves Chicago but loses the train to the first bomb. Heartbroken, Stevens pleads with Source Code's controller, Goodwin, to allow him to go back one more time to save the train...and Christina. After 8 minutes he instructs Goodwin to basically 'pull the plug' and allow him to die. She complies and Stevens successfully saves the train and has a few last moments with Christina. He asks her what she would do with her last minute. As final seconds of his last 8 minutes ticks away, he kisses her, the Source Code clock expires, and everything on the train is frozen in time. Stevens' last moment shows him kissing Christina. He has died but has saved the train and her life. It's a touching way for our hero to enter eternity and a very good, but bittersweet ending.

Then a terrible thing happens...the movie continues and breaks all of the rules its worked so hard to establish. I'm not going to explain what occurs in the last 10 minutes other than to say it's either to give us an entirely happy ending or to set up a sequel. I can almost excuse the possibility of a lead in to a sequel, business is business. But I think this travesty of a tacked on ending is due to Hollywood and it's mostly thick-headed customers needing a totally happy ending.

AndrewPrice said...

whitsbrain, Thanks for the comment and thanks for joining us! :)

I think your review is spot on. When I first started, I tried very hard to get into the characters. I struggled with it more than you did, but I wanted very much to like the movie and I was willing to accept them... until things started to fall apart, like how he knew too much and how many of his actions were nonsensical.

I agree completely that the villain is annoying. Not only is he bland and pointless, but he is yet another liberal political statement on the terrorism issue -- I'd forgotten the bit about the box being red, white and blue. I'm sick of that.

And then they did toss out their rules whenever they got in the way and the whole movie largely became nonsense.

Ultimately, I think you're right that the purpose was to go for the lowest common denominator with the ending. This film worked very hard to stay so shallow that no one could possibly fail to grasp the film. That's a huge mistake for science fiction.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed this movie, and thought it might be interesting to explain why, as a counterpoint to the generally negative review and reception posted to date.

First, let me address the science. Most scifi requires the suspension of some disbelief, and this film is no different. Some of the science in this movie is plain nonsense, but it falls into a fairly standard "quantum theory can explain anything" trope. In this respect, it is no worse than a movie involving time travel or faster-than-light travel.

The movie is based on the "many-worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, which "explains" the randomness/unpredictability inherent in quantum theory by saying that all possibilities happen: a random quantum event causes the universe to fork into multiple universes, each representing a possible outcome. This idea is then linked with the standard Copenhagen interpretation, in which these random quantum events are caused by sentient observers. Schroedinger's cat is neither alive nor dead until someone observes it, and then the universe forks in two: one universe in which the cat is alive, and one in which it is dead.

This makes sentient observers rather special. The premise of the movie is that living brains keep track of the quantum state of their environment for 8 minutes. This is clearly nonsense, but to enjoy a movie you have to accept the premise, from perfect beings to replicants indistinguishable from humans.

The Source Code project can read this information from a dead person brain, and hence (they believe) send another living mind into a simulation of the environment during the last 8 minutes of the dead person's life.

What they do not realise is that their machinery actually creates a quantum event, causing the universe to fork: one universe in which the person with 8 minutes to die was not substituted, and one in which he/she was. However, the universes remain connected by the mind inhabiting both of them, until it dies in one of them.

Of course the movie does not explain this at the start, and so it creates a mystery for the viewer to solve. The clever thing about the movie is that this is also the mystery that Jake must solve. The mystery about the bomber is a red herring: this is the mystery that the Source Code people want Jake to solve, but he has nothing to gain by solving it.

This is why the bomber is so bland, vague and cliche. Like Sex, Lies and Videotapes, the movie is not about what we may at first think it is about. It is about Jake, a soldier coming to terms with the fact that he is effectively dead, but has been imprisoned in truly surreal afterlife, in which he can continue to serve his country by inhabiting some else's mind in the last 8 minutes of their life.

It is essential to the plot that he is not a typical disciplined military pilot who obeys orders without question and thinks only of the mission. He is trying to understand his predicament and escape it, while also demonstrating progress on the mission.

I don't agree with the view that he takes unnecessary risks. His situation is a bit like having 10 parcels, 9 of which are bombs, and one contains 1 million dollars. In real life, you do not open a parcel at random. However, if you know that the result of failure is not death, but being given another chance, then you systematically open the parcels one-by-one until you find the prize. And so Jake tries to chase down as many possibilities as possible on each visit until he finds the right one.

Unknown said...


In the process, he discovers a vital piece of information. When he first leaves the train to follow a suspect, he sees the train blow-up. He only "returns to base" when his body is killed under another train. In other words, he lived beyond the 8 minute limit of the "simulation". It is his only hope to convince Goodwin to kill instead the body they have, so that he can live on in the simulation.

At this point, the movie delivers a beautiful reward for your attention. Why does he turn to Goodwin to help him? Well, because she has always seemed to be on his side, and encouraged him that everything would be alright. During his final trip into the Source Code, he realise that in this new universe, there is still a Source Code project waiting to use a helicopter pilot in a coma to thwart a terrorist plot. He will avert this one, but there will be another, so he phones Goodwin and tells her what he knows, asking her to reassure his alter ego in the new universe that everything will be alright.

This reminds us of the impatience Rutledge feels, waiting for an opportunity to use the Source Code. Why has there been no such opportunity? Well, perhaps it is because he lives in a universe which has already benefitted from the Source Code many times, with many plots thwarted.

The genius of the film is that Jake not only finds his own salvation, but also way to build it into the system.

Unknown said...

PS. Sorry for some imperfect writing above - the editing window is small. Also by "Jake", I mean (of course) his character Colter Stevens.

AndrewPrice said...

John, No problem, I understood who you meant. :)

You have an interesting take on the film and I think that at an analysis level you are correct. I do like the idea behind this film and I think it could make for an effective film.

But in this case, I think the execution just wasn't very good. I think that the director and writer were just too sloppy in terms of explaining the idea behind what they were doing and in how the characters all react too perfectly for the story to feel real. Few of the reactions Jake gets from the other characters feel real to me, they feel like "what the plot needs." And the story feels like it's full of throwaway ideas that are just there to make sure that Jake succeeds.

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