C and I went to the movies to watch Source Code last night. If you haven’t seen it, watch out. This post contains spoilers.
Colter Stevens is a dead helicopter pilot. Well, sort of dead. A part of his brain is being kept alive for a program called Source Code. That part of his brain can relive “flashbacks” of sorts - but not flashbacks of his own experiences. The “flashback” is of another man, who died in a train explosion earlier that morning. This allows Colter to relive the last eight minutes of the man’s life in a parallel universe. Colter’s last mission before he is allowed to die: find out who planted the bomb because this same person is going to do it again. Colter is sent back to relive the man’s last eight minutes numerous times, trying different tactics each time to find out who the bomber is. He eventually succeeds.
Colter interacts with not-dead people who are running this whole shebang by a video camera. That is - the people running the program use a camera to allow Colter to see and hear them. However, to them Colter’s own speech is interpreted as text on the monitor. Colter visualizes his world (in his case he visualizes himself in a capsule of some sort). His body is not real - in fact his real body is in a high tech coffin and is made up of only a torso hooked up to a bunch of machines to keep that necessary part of his brain functioning.
Memory vs parallel universe
To be honest I’m still a little unsure as to how they put Colter Stevens into this other man’s memory. Maybe I missed some parts, but in my opinion this was also not adequately explained in the first place. I would get it if it was Colter himself who was on the train and he can now relive his own last 8 minutes, but this isn’t the case. These are two completely different people.
Dr Rutledge, the creator of the program, says straight out (after Colter realizes that he is actually sort of dead) that Source Code works through quantum physics. OK. He then says that the brain can store eight minutes of memory in the short term, which, with Source Code, can then be relived by another person.
The problem for me is that instead of just going into the other person’s memory and being able to observe what the person observed, Colter was able to actively interact with that world and step outside the limits of the memory. He was able to get off the train, interact with the other passengers, dismantle the bomb, etc. Of course this had no effect in the real world. Well, the “real world” where Dr Rutledge and Colleen Goodwin (who is the main point of contact with Colter to try to get him to figure out who the bomber was) currently reside - the “first layer”, if you will. However, the “flashback” world turns out to be just as real - it turns out to be a parallel universe. Which is totally fine, but how does accessing those eight minutes of short term memory stored in the dead guy’s brain suddenly turn into a whole another universe?
Anyway, the day is saved when Colter finds out who the bomber was. He was earlier promised that when he finds out who the bomber is, his real body will be disconnected and he will be allowed to die. Dr Rutledge, however, has other ideas. He wants to wipe Colter’s memory and keep using him when required in other similar situations. Dr Goodwin, deciding that Colter has had enough, goes behind Rutledge’s back to grant Colter’s last wish - to send him back to the eight minute flashback one last time. When the eight minutes is up, Goodwin promises to terminate Colter. In the eight minutes Colter catches the bomber and stops the train from exploding. His “first level” universe body is terminated by Goodwin, but Colter’s parallel-universe version doesn’t disappear - he keeps on living in that universe. A happy ending even if a little confusing (again, this seems to go outside of the bounds of an eight minute flashback).
All in all, I thought it was a good movie - even if a bit flawed. I found the concept of keeping someone alive with just their torso in a high-tech coffin and forcing them to relive another person’s memory over and over again highly disturbing, but hey - if a movie can evoke a pretty strong emotion like that out of me it did something right.
Have you seen Source Code? What did you think of it?