Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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Why ‘Source Code’ Sucks

The other week, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with my good friends, Kyle (of Culture Cast fame) and Lisa Boatright. I haven’t seen them in a good while, and, among other things, we sat down to watch a movie. That movie was the 2011 Duncan Jones film Source Code.

It is a fairly enjoyable thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who is essentially experiencing Groundhog Day via quantum leaping in order to find a bomber on a train with each “leap” being only 8 minutes long. It has a neat sci-fi premise (even if it, ultimately, doesn’t make a lick of sense) and the movie kept me interested. It even had a voice cameo by Scott Bakula (I refuse to believe his casting was coincidental).

However, the film had one problem which utterly destroyed it for me. As such, I am going to pull a Roger Ebert and focus on this one element. Spoilers abound!

Up to the end of the movie, the audience is told that anytime Colter (Gyllenhaal) goes back, he cannot actually change the past, and the reason he’s “leaping” into the person on the train is because that person has already died. After Colter effectively defeats the bomber’s plans for the future, he wants to go back one more time just to see if he can actually save the people on the train. He is fully aware that it won’t change anything in the present, but wants to know if he can do it. Following this, his live support will be cut off and he’ll die as per his wishes (he’s basically a lump of flesh in the present).

During his final leap, he is able to stop the bomber again, deactivate the bombs, give a final call to his father, cheer up an otherwise grumpy passenger, and kiss the girl. Everything is resolved, and this scene ends in a freeze frame as time runs out and Colter’s life support is shut down. It would have given the film a bittersweet, yet ultimately happy ending.

Nope. The filmmakers couldn’t leave well enough alone. Turns out he’s been creating alternate timelines each time he leaps back. And, with no more life support, he’s cut-off from the future and his original timeline. He gets to live out the rest of his live in a new body with the love interest.

I have several problems with this tacked on ending. For starters, it goes against much of what the film had previously said. It was point blank stated (many times) that Colter couldn’t change the future. Nothing was ever mentioned of creating new timelines. This was an eleventh hour reveal, and in a high-concept film with a potentially confusing plot device such as time travel, you just can’t do that and expect an audience to go along with it. It is an incredible cheat.

Second, the love story is weak to begin with.  Not that it is written poorly, but that the love interest Christina (Michelle Monaghan) never actually forms a connection with Colter.  As we learn, Christina fell for the guy whose body Colter is in weeks before the start of the repeating 8 minutes, and, since things keep starting over, only knew “Colter” for less than 8 minutes.  Why should we be happy these two get to pursue a relationship?  She doesn’t know him and, more importantly, thinks he’s someone else.  If the movie ended with the freeze frame, Colter kissing her worked because that scene was purely about him making the most of his time left (in addition to him being attracted to her, of course). With the stuff after the freeze frame, she goes to spend the day with him giving the audience the idea that they will be together. Other than a name and occupation, Colter doesn’t know who the guy he’s pretending to be is.  Christina probably going to figure out really soon that this isn’t the same guy she fell for. In fact, she mentions almost every time they talk during the last 8 minutes that he seems different. Colter intentionally pretending to be this guy to get with an unassuming woman paints him in a very negative light. Kinda dampens the happy ending, doesn’t it?

Finally, the biggest issue I had is the fact that apparently Colter is now in this other guy’s body for life. This, of course, begs the question: what happened to the other guy?! Did Colter push him out of his own mind? Is he dead? Did Colter’s ability to live on basically kill the other guy? This casts a very long shadow of the end of the movie. Before, it seemed alright, because the other guy was going to die anyway when the train explodes. But now, it doesn’t, because Colter forged a new timeline where this guy could have gone on living. Also, what is Colter going to pretend to be this guy forever? How is that going to work? We learn he’s teacher. Is Colter just going to fake his way teaching. I suppose it is possible to pull that off. But what about things such as the guy’s family and friends? They are going to know something is terribly wrong, and Colter’s new lease on life is going to likely be one big game of manipulation.

I fully realize these things are somewhat nitpicky. However, if a viewer is spotting them while watching as they happen in the movie, then something is very, very wrong. I liked this movie up until the last five minutes. This ending completely ruined Source Code for me. It came off as trying way too hard to have a happy ending when the film already had one.

Because of this, I have created a new term:

Source Coded [v.]
An action when an otherwise perfectly good movie is destroyed by an unnecessary, terrible ending. Typically involves rejecting much of what was previously established in the film and has a feeling of overcompensation.
See: Source Code; The Illusionist

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4 responses to “Why ‘Source Code’ Sucks

  1. CultureCast-K March 8, 2012 at 8:04 am

    You have a wonderful entry here. It actually cleared up the movie much more so for myself. I couldn’t quite explain that every 8 minutes was an alternate time frame and reality. When we first watched it I was more optimistic about the ending but your points ultimately convince me that the ending truly sucked.

  2. Pingback: Friday Five – Identical Movies « The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

  3. JC Gatlin April 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    You are so correct on the ending… I couldn’t put my finger on it the way you have, but I had a problem with it too. I really enjoyed the movie, but was stuck on the ending not quite working! A bittersweet freeze frame would have been much stronger. And I like your new term: source coded. I’m sure there was some Hollywood test market that said the movie would rate higher if Jake G. got the girl and they could live happily ever after.

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