“If the sky were to suddenly open up, there would be no law, there would be no rule. There would be only you and your memories.” – Richard Kelly
What lies at the center of Source Code’s filmic success is its simplistic approach towards a highly evolved scientific idea. From the moment our protagonist, Sean (Jake Gyllenhaal), awakes on the train, we are just as confused as he is. Who are these people? Who is this unfamiliar face staring back at me in the mirror? These questions are not answered until they need to be. Until then, we are asked to try and solve this mystery with Sean.
Despite its lofty subject matter, the film presents itself in a relatively accessibly manner , and we are engaged because at any moment, we risk being pushed off of the cliff Jones’ has so slyly placed us on the edge of. One wrong line or time spent developing larger conceptualizations and the buzz is lost.
Outside of the source code, Sean is Captan Colter Stevens, an American soldier recently killed in action. He is a man trapped in a chaotic world, one in which he has no choice but to re-visit the 8 minute time frame of a terrorist disaster and complete the tasks assigned to him, all in a grandiose attempt to discover the identity of the bomber and prevent a larger explosion that could destroy Chicago.
He is in limbo. Not dead, but certainly not alive. Like T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men”, he embodies “shape without form” and finds himself unable to emigrate from the third Canto of Dante’s Inferno: a commonplace for the horde of souls that are forced to pursue a “whiling banner round and round.”
With nothing but a working brain, everything he perceives is merely a “simulation,” an alternate reality controlled by a higher authority. Sooner or later, we realize Stevens’ helplessness in the face of his superiors. His quest for identity becomes a passionate desire for equilibrium in a world of fragmented temporality.
But the resulting tragedy is not Stevens’ loss of human choice (indeed, he can make choices within the the source code), but rather, his inability to distinguish between replicant and human, revealed in his affection for Christina (Michelle Monaghan). To Stevens, the chemistry that exists between them is real, and thus she is real. Christina’s authenticity is the reason he goes back, and her presence in this story is essential.
And then there’s Goodwin, Stevens’ only legitimate link to the real world. She has watched him for the past two months suffer through multiple source code scenarios, and she has fallen in love him. She knows, however, that she will never have the chance to be with him. Only within the body of his doppelgänger can Stevens establish peace with his father and be with Christina. In the final minutes of the film, Goodwin is faced with a choice: to follow orders and erase Stevens’ memory or to terminate his life support, allowing him live within the alternate reality of the source code.
In the end, love always prevails.