Movie Review – Source Code (2011)


The story in Source Code concerns investigating the past to alter the future. In that spirit, I will reveal that I write a mental outline of my reviews before I put fingers to keyboard, and that my thinking about Source Code tells me this will be a difficult review to write. First, I’m going to have to break my personal rule against including spoilers and second, it will be tough to be dispassionate. The former because the ending ruins what had been quite an enjoyable movie. The latter because I dislike being taken for a fool.

The filmmakers and the audience for a science fiction film have an unstated pact. The audience agrees to accept the premise, no matter how outlandish. The filmmakers agree to adhere to internal logic.

The outlandish premise of Source Code is a variation on time travel paradox. Army pilot Captain Colter Smith (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been recruited as the operative in an experimental, top-secret project. His consciousness will enter the mind of a dead man, the victim of a commuter train bombing, in the last eight minutes of his life. Captain Smith’s task is to discover the bomber’s identity before he can strike again, and he will have to re-live those eight minutes over and over until he does. As he spends more time on the train, he starts to want to stop the bombing and save the passengers, especially the lovely Christina (Michelle Monaghan), but there’s a catch: he’s not really going back in time. He’s inside the dead man’s “source code,” mind-generated electrical waves that scientists have used to create an artificial reality.

For viewers willing to enter into the pact, Source Code is a fun ride. The story creates a strong dramatic situation and there are some surprises in the plot (the trailer didn’t give away as much as I thought). Director Duncan Jones keeps things moving so you don’t have time to linger unduly on the conundrum. The actors do a good job, especially Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga, who plays his control room handler. The politically correct bomber and his plan are ludicrous and the evil scientist behind the project is a cliche, but those aren’t critical flaws.

The problem is the last few minutes. In thrall to the trick ending (it’s over *sigh of relief* but wait, it’s not over! the monster still lives!) and the rigid, narrowly defined “Hollywood happy ending,” the filmmakers break the pact. Internal logic goes out the window in a deeply unsatisfying conclusion.

I’m going to step up on my soapbox for a moment and talk about what makes a crowd-pleasing ending. Many Hollywood decision makers obviously believe that the only crowd-pleasing ending is a conventional happy ending. Of course, that’s absurd. Just look at all the hugely popular movies that don’t have a conventional happy ending. (Gone With the Wind, anyone?) But they think that.

What they don’t get is that the best ending is the ending that’s right for the story. A crowd-pleasing ending is the ending that the story has been building to, that makes sense for the characters we’ve gotten to know, and that fits the mood and spirit of the film. Source Code reaches its natural end point a few minutes before the credits start. It’s not bright and cheerful, but it’s the ending the movie has been building to. It’s poignant and redemptive and emotionally satisfying. It’s good storytelling, and that’s the best way to please the crowd.

Rating in the alternate reality where the movie ends at its natural end point: 3 stars

Rating in this reality: 1 1/2 stars


Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Review of Source Code by Nir Shalev

Director Duncan Jones made his name with the very fine sci-fi indie Moon, a satisfying drama that isn’t in thrall to the Hollywood happy ending.

13 responses to “Movie Review – Source Code (2011)

  1. I just finished watching Source Code and I believe that you, Helen need to watch ithe movie again. Every aspect of it makes complete sense once you begin to place the parallel universes that the source code creates in the back of your mind. There are two parallel universes in the film and what traspires in the final few minutes makes sense, in accordance with the film’s philosophical and physical logic; the final few mintues of the film physically happen and they’re are cathartic and pleasing. At least I found.

    I find Source Code to be a brilliant film that takes much more thinking than Moon did, but Moon is still a small step above Source Code.

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I found the ending hugely unsatisfying emotionally. I particularly disliked that the hero’s second chance is based on stealing another man’s life. It undercuts the romance (ie, she’s in love with the other guy, not the hero) and the moral dimension is completely ignored.


        What transpires is immoral in terms of the Source Code project, yes, but Christina has fallen in love with Colter Stevens, while in Sean’s body; and this all takes place in the parallel universe. We don’t know how long Sean and Christina have known each other in our universe but understand that she’s fallen for Colter by the end of the film, and Colter only looks like Sean. And because the timeline in the parallel universe begins on the train then technically there never really was a Sean.
        Eventually when the timeline in our universe is severed as Colter’s consiounce is in the parallel universe, he continues to live there in Sean’s body and life goes on while in our universe Colter’s dead because Goodwin hated the immorality of wiping Colter’s conscience again and again.

        Nothing had phisically happened in our universe except for the train explosion, the apprehension of the terrorist, and the killing of Colter Stevens. Everythng that we see, including the text from Colter to Goodwin, takes place in the parallel universe. And because the terrorist was captured succesfully, the team knows that Source Code really works, no matter how immoral it is, and now they can use it here, in our universe. Except that now they need another guinea pig. And nothing is ultimately immoral when we face tremendous resaults, in movies that is.

        Watching this film I was reminded of Minority Report because in their universe they put innocent people in jail, plain and simple. Just because there is 100% proof that certain people will commit murderous crimes doesnt give us the right to arrest them for the crimes that they hadn’t yet commited, hence the paradox in the universe that lets that happen. The Source Code project is immoral in the way that Colter has to find out that he’d died but that no one told him, and that he was participating in the project without his personal consent. Also, death is not an option when one’s memories can be erased and so the Source Code is very useful, and possibly cost effective, but is paradoxically immoral nevertheless.

        I like that Colter gets to live out a happy life with Christina because, and this is just me, he understood that that part of his life takes place in another universe and therefore, can be changed. He never expected to live past the 8 minutes but, there you go.
        And like Dr. Rutledge said, “Source Code is not time travel, it’s time reassignment”.

        Hooray for science fiction!

        Sorry for the long post. I just really loved this film and I’m willing to agree to disagree. :O)

        • I agree the film invites a parallel universes interpretation, but while I considered that at the time, it didn’t reconcile me to the ending. Which I’m sorry about because there are a lot of things I really liked about it.

          • So what do you dislike about the ending? After all he’s emotionally been through, why not give him a good, real life, to start afresh?

            • I considered the interpretation, but wasn’t persuaded by it, and the “stealing his life” problem stands regardless. However, fundamentally, I dislike the ending because I believe the film was building to the bittersweet cathartic moment captured in the freeze frame, an ending I found sad, yes, but also dramatic and emotionally resonant. Maybe I’m just of the “everybody loves a good cry” school of thought.

              • Possibly. lol
                I would cry watching a film if it was truly building up to it. I feel that after the kiss is what the story was all about. It’s concrete evidence that a parallel universe exists and is, therefore what it was all building towards. I like the happy ending over the bittersweet ending a bit more because it’s story related and doesn’t exist only to instil a specific emotion within us.

                That’s you and that’s me. :O)

  2. am i barking or was this review not supposed to be about the commentary track or do i not understand the concept of the site, that you are all just providing yet another review of the picture?? Like n thousand other sodding sites round the world that have already reviewed the film

    I’m interested in finding out about the commentary track

    Is it technical?
    is it insightful about the production process?
    how does it compare to other commentary tracks?
    who is it aimed at, joe public, other movie makers, who?

    • Basically, what Miriam said. This website, just like all of the other millions of film review websites found on the internet reviews all kinds of films from all over the world. But once in a while I review the commentary track of a specific DVD or Blu-ray, provided that it’s an insightful one.
      This website contains commentary tracks reviews for a few films and they can be found here:

      I hope that we hadn’t ruined your day, judging by your tone, and I hope that you visit us again in the future. :O)

  3. As a regular commenter, I will answer this. I will not comment about your state of mind but you don’t understand the concept of the site having jumped to a conclusion without looking at it. The title of the blog is a playful reference to the term but does not mean to confine the content to the DVD feature.

    There are specific posts discussing the DVD release which include some comments about the special features, including commentary tracks when present.

    Current releases are reviewed as they appear in movie theaters, as was this particular film. Other posts preview upcoming films, highlight the limited release films which are being shown in Indiana, and offer topics for discussion and conversation.

    I should think it generally risky to jump to conclusions from any title, be it for movie, book, song, or blog.

  4. If that is true then this was a terrible name for your websitesite. I will not be returning here.

    • @Jim, for the record, I’ver never been to a website looking for information re comemnatry tracks in which the title of said websites was “Commentary Track”., DVDBeaver, Highdefdigest, etc. all contain some information re DVD and Blu-ray commenatry tracks but don’t limit themselves to just that aspect; therefore they domain names names isn’t Commentary Track.
      We don’t either we but we find the name amusing.

      If you don’t like then you don’t have to drop by and read our film reviews.
      Sorry is we mislead you but your previous statement is ridiculous and pathetic.

      • The burning question is, do the literalists swear they’ll never return to Rotten Tomatoes when they find out it isn’t about produce?

        The second question is, why did I spend so much time writing our About page?

        Further comments about the movie “Source Code” or my review are welcome.


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