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Film / Source Code

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Dr. Rutledge: You cannot alter this reality while inside the Source Code.
Colter: I’m asking you to have the decency to let me try.

A 2011 Cyberpunk film directed by Duncan Jones starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Has quite a few similarities with Quantum Leap, which is acknowledged with a Voice-Only Cameo by Scott Bakula.

Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is a decorated helicopter pilot who wakes up in the body of an unknown man inside a train in Chicago, where he meets a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan). But before he can understand what's going on, a bomb explodes on the train.

Waking up once again, this time in a capsule in an unknown location, Colter is greeted by a military woman named Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who informs Colter that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over the body of another in the last eight minutes of that person's life. What he experienced on the train was merely an "after-image", an alternate timeline that runs parallel but more slowly. Earlier that day, a bomb already detonated and destroyed a train in Chicago, killing everyone aboard, including Christina, whom he has developed feelings for, and the original owner of Colter’s assumed identity within the Source Code, a man named Sean Fentress. Colter's mission is to use the after-image to retroactively discover the location of the bomb on the train and trace it to the bomber so that a second detonation can be prevented.


Not to be confused with an uncompiled computer program.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Derek Frost speaks in a slurred manner, which is a possible trait for autistic people, and brings up Kill 'Em All as his motive to restart society.
  • Always Save the Girl: Colter really wants to, but there's the small matter of Christina already being dead.
  • Becoming the Mask: A rather heartwarming variation.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • It leans way more on the happy side. Colter's original life is over and he will never see his father again. However, he will live on as Sean with Christina with a much happier lease on life. A large plot point of the film is his amends with the former.
    • While literally everyone else survives, the original Sean is dead even in the happy universe ending.
  • Brand X: The train company is called Chicago Commuter Rail, or CCR, instead of Metra. Still Metra's blue and red engines, though.
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  • Cannot Spit It Out: The Source Code officials might have gotten Colter's cooperation much sooner if they just spilt the beans about his circumstances from the get go, instead of dodging his most basic questions. This plays into Rutledge treating him like a machine instead of a person.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The older woman's bag on the upper level.
    • One of the passengers drops his wallet, which is returned to him by another passenger. The first passenger is Derek Frost, the bomber, and he's deliberately leaving his wallet at the site to be assumed one of the casualties of the bomber.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. Derek shoots Christina through the van.
  • The Cutie: Christina is an attractive, intelligent, funny young woman who's Colter's closest human connection on the train.
  • Dead All Along: Subverted He's only comatose, not actually dead.
  • Death Is Cheap: Averted. Colter doesn't actually die at the end of every run through, but he experiences the horror of it every time, and the more he does it, the more he comes to see just how precious and fleeting life is.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: After major suspicion is cast on every person in Colter's immediate area (including Colter himself!), the Bomber eventually turns out to be a random background character who had literally 2 seconds of screen time before The Reveal.
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: Inverted. In the end, there's a reality where they found the bomber after he blew up the train, the Source Code project is deemed a success, Colter gets Killed Off for Real and Goodwin will probably have to face military court. Colter simply uses his new Sean body to go drink a coffee with Christina. Played staight with all the alternate realities where Colter failed to prevent the bombing.
  • Flash Back: The Source Code program effectively serves as an interactive one. There's also a few of Colter's death.
  • Flash Forward: Colter's "in transit" glimpses of Christina and the Bean.
  • Flash Sideways: Colter has a glimpse of his future self in another timeline before he even gets there.
  • For Science!: Rutledge will go pretty far to advance his technology including breaking an explicit promise to Stevens
  • Genius Cripple:
    • Rutledge, bordering on Evil Cripple (he's got a Lack of Empathy, to say the least).
    • Technically Colter, though we don't tend to see his actual body and his genius is in solving terrorist plots, rather than inventing brain-linked super-computers.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Colter is actually mostly brain-dead and missing limbs and his lower torso, with his physical self an illusion. His life is at the mercy of the scientists running the Source Code.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: Nothing is known about Sean Fentress besides what other people say about him, and with Jake Gyllenhaal portraying both versions of his character, Fentress's real appearance is only seen through reflections and photos of him.
  • Just One Little Mistake: The bomber is only identified because he is seen trying to deliberately leave his wallet on the train to fake his death moments after he did the same thing and the wallet was returned to him. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been a single thing to draw any suspicion toward him.
  • Just Train Wrong
    • Trains do not have guns on board. As quoted by Metra's own commuter newsletter On the Bi Level, "If conductors wanted to wield guns they would have applied for a different kind of blue uniform." Same thing with tasers and handcuffs.
    • The so called 'conductor's compartment' is actually an engineer cab for remotely controlling the locomotive when the train is moving in that directionnote , and is portrayed on the wrong end of the train car (the engineer must be able to see the track ahead). Even more so from the outside view of the cars since it shows the windshields for the cab on the right end of the car, but the side windows of the cab on the wrong end as well. Not to mention this was a Chicago bound train, so the compartment would not have been empty, there would have been an engineer on one side of the compartment, operating the train.
    • Not all cars on the train have the headlights/taillights/red stripes that have been used since 1972.
    • Metra gallery cars do not have a bridge over the isle, they have stairs on either side of the aisle to reach their respective sides of the mezzanine. This is caused by the movie being shot in Montreal, and using that city's commuter system for interior filming.
    • While Skokie is a town just northwest of Chicago, there is no Metra station there. The closest Metra station to Skokie is in the next suburb west, Morton Grove, on the opposite side of the Edens Expressway.
    • Furthermore, there is no town of Glenbrooke near Chicago, much less a Metra stop there. The closest thing there is to this would be Northbrook, which has a Metra station and a Glenbrook North High School.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dr. Rutledge treats Colter less like a human and more like a machine. His attitude comes off like someone who doesn't believe Colter is even capable of normal human emotion, even though that flies in the face of his own conversations with the man. It may be that he's trying to disassociate himself from the ugly reality.
    • When a horrific terrorist attack is foiled in an alternate timeline, Rutledge expresses apparent disappointment about the lost opportunity to test the source code.
  • Meaningful Echo: A few, but most notably, "What would you do if you knew you had less than a minute to live?"
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ruthless Rutledge is ruthless.
    • "Beleaguered Castle" is also the name of a specific solitaire layout. It is a particularly complex and difficult one, where the majority of possible moves will lead to an unsolvable dead end. Just as most of Colter's attempts at solving his scenario end in failure.
  • Mind Wipe: Colter's intended fate.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Colter is Sean. Probably a visual form of Translation Convention since Colter is not looking at himself all the time, he percieves himself (And we see him) as Colter. Is only when he looks in the mirror that he (And thus the audience) realizes what he actually looks like.
  • Mistaken for Evidence: Done frequently with a combination of characters (the shifty guy who just has motion sickness, the overly defensive software designer only calling his wife) and with objects (the first phone on the bomb, pretty much every piece of technology in the first half).
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: When Colter first suspects the Middle-Eastern man who turns out to have motion sickness, Christina calls him out on it. (As usual for this trope, there is at least a small bit of evidence.)
  • Product Placement: Apparently they have Dunkin' Donuts shops on trains now. Also, Colter has time to stare at the Bing homepage for what seems like an eternity before searching for anything.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Nobody seems to care that Colter is essentially body-jacking Sean every time he jumps. It's taken a step further at the end, where he has effectively murdered the real Sean and stolen his identity. In fairness, though, the real Sean is dead either way: either Colter jacks his body or he goes up with the train, and it's beyond Colter's power to give the body back at the end. It doesn't even go into what exactly is happening to Sean mentally, namely whether his mind is being suppressed or outright replaced. The former leaves him in in a Being John Malkovich state for as long as Colter's borrowing him, the latter would leave him brain-dead assuming Colter saved him and left his body at the end of the Source Code.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered in the first person no less.
    Colter: Hey, my name's Derek Frost. I planted a nuclear device in the white van parked in a Glenbrooke Station CCR parking lot. Right now, I'm handcuffed to a pole in the 944 CCR train headed to Chicago Union Station. I'm a sick and pathetic human being and I need to be locked away for a very long time.
  • Science Is Bad: Played with. While the program can't undo past events, it can be used to influence future ones and prevent subsequent attacks and save millions of lives. However, there is the matter of Source Code's creator, Dr. Rutledge, wanting to go back on his promise to let Colter die so the Source Code Program can continue, for not wholly altruistic reasons.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Doubly subverted. Colter can't change the past - everyone is already dead, and his sole purpose is preventing future attacks. But in one timeline, he succeeds, creating an alternate future where the train does not explode.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The radio DJ's spiel about the weather near the end, besides the numbers being different (it's a bit nippier out, apparently) is the same as that near the beginning of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which also takes place in Chicago.
    • Christina's ringtone is "I am the one and only", the same as Sam Bell's alarm clock in Moon.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: The motivation for the bombing is not really important to the plot. The bomber apparently acted alone, and defied all the stereotypes, being neither Middle Eastern nor Asian nor a radical college kid, but a standard-issue middle class white guy. When Stevens does get a chance to ask "why", he gets some answer about rebuilding from the rubble, but no specifics or clear ideology. His line "This world is Hell" plus a strong implication of mental illness is the most we ever get.
  • Time Bomb: Played with. The device is merely an explosive rigged to blow when it receives a signal, but Colter only has eight recurring minutes to discover where it is and who put it there, thanks to how the Source Code operates. He finds it pretty quickly; it takes most of the film to uncover the bomber's identity.
  • Time Travel: Colter Stevens uses technology to return to an earlier point in time, but his actions do not erase the accident that originally happened, but rather creates a branch timeline.
  • Together in Death: In the original timeline, Christina died on the train and Colter died when Goodwin shut off his life support. In the alternate timeline, they live.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Colter begins the film having no idea why he's on a train with a woman who claims to know him under another name. Later, when he "wakes up" inside of the capsule, he doesn't recognize Capt. Goodwin or anybody involved with the Source Code Project. But then, he's never met any of them before, since he was assigned to the program after his presumed death.
  • Villainous Breakdown: For a loose definition of "villain". When Goodwin goes against orders and is prepared to kill Colter (on his request) at the end of his final Source Code trip, Rutledge is screaming at his men to stop her after he finds she's changed the access code.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Colter, big time. Rutledge is not above exploiting this to trigger his Heroic Resolve.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Rutledge is genuinely devoted to saving the lives of countless Americans by preventing terror attacks. That the process involves the exploitation of mortally wounded veterans is an acceptable price to him.
  • Wham Line: Christina telling "Sean" that his friend Colter was killed in action - two months ago.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Sean after Colter hijacked his body in the new timeline? Also, what happens to original timeline Goodwin? For that matter, what about all those other timelines where they failed to find the bomber? Presumably each timeline where the train is destroyed has a good chance of catching the bomber, but it's never really settled.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Even after the Alternate Universe aspect of the Source Code is explained to him, Colter still tries to do good to strangers that he'll never be able to interact with ever again. To his delight, he's actually wrong and his consciousness enters the Alternate Universe in the final attempt.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: When outside of the Source Code, Colter perceives himself as being inside a fully enclosed capsule of some sort, similar to a cockpit, complete with a video screen to communicate with Beleaguered Castle, tools, and an emergency exit. It turns out that his mind is actually jacked into a computer system, and his body is horribly maimed.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played with. No matter what he does, the passengers always die in the original timeline. However, in a rare happy ending version of this trope, he is able to save them in an alternate timeline, and he goes with Christina to the Cloud Gate sculpture, which he has been seeing in flashes in between time leaps, implying that he was always meant to in the first place.

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