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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 and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It 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 Army helicopter pilot who wakes up in the body of an unknown man inside a commuter 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:

  • Alternate Timeline: In the end, Source Code is revealed to create new timelines.
  • Always Save the Girl: Colter really wants to, but there's the small matter of Christina already being dead.
  • Arc Words: "Everything is going to be OK."
  • 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. Original Sean is still dead in both realities.
  • Brand X: The train company is called Chicago Commuter Rail, or CCR, instead of Metra. Still Metra's blue and red engines, though.
  • 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.
  • 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: Colter who, before the film even starts, is kept on life support and doesn't die at the end of every run through, even as the entire body he's in at the time is on a train that blows up.
  • 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.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Colter dies a few times to get the right ending.
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: Played extremely straight with the main plot being about all the alternate realities where Colter is sent where he 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.
  • Foreshadowing: When Colter notes that transmission fluid is leaking everywhere in his capsule, Goodwin casually dismisses it. When Colter brings up his capsule to Rutledge, the doctor says "Is that where you see yourself?" It later turns out that the capsule is a projection of Colter's imagination.
  • 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).
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Colter must play through the same eight-minute loop over and over again, using his accumulated knowledge to get closer and closer to success.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Colter, and it's not a pretty sight.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Dr. Rutledge is a rather rude and pitiless.
  • 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 storage lockers with guns in them, nor do any train personnel carry weapons on them. The only armed and uniformed officers on a train would be actual law enforcement.
    • 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.
  • Man in the Machine: Colter is revealed to be a comatose man plugged into a machine.
  • 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 perceives himself (and we see him) as Colter. It's only when he looks in the mirror that he (and thus the audience) realizes what he actually looks like.
  • Mission Control: Goodwin serves this role for Colter's missions.
  • 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.)
  • Perma-Stubble: Colter is shown with beard stubble in the Source Code, which is odd for a soldier on active duty
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The program is powered by a forsaken mortally wounded veteran heading for routine Mind Wipe without being allowed to die.
  • 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.
  • Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Let you create an entire new reality to hijack so you can steal the life and body of a person eight minutes before they would have died, in this case.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered in the first person no less, when Colter reports the suspect.
    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 terrorist is not part of any cause or established movement. He's a lone wolf who gives only a very generic motive about the world being "hell" and people needing to rebuild society.
  • 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.
  • Time-Travel Romance: Colter falls in love while traveling back in time several hours.
  • Title Drop: Source Code is the name of the project being used to send Colter back.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Goodwin decides to mercy kill Colter rather than let him be used endlessly by the Source Code project.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Colter doesn't remember where he is or what he's doing during his first mission. Even during his debrief, he remembers almost nothing about his mission or situation and must receive an Info Dump from Goodwin. It's later revealed that this is because he had just been plugged into the Source Code system before his first mission.
  • "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 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 Already Changed the Past: Colter tells Goodwin at the end of the film that she is living in a new timeline that another version of herself helped create through the Source Code project.
  • 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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