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Decoding "Source Code": What's Your Interpretation of the Ending?

by Christopher Campbell
April 1, 2011 5:02 AM
390 Comments
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It may not share too many things with "Inception" outside of a slight similarity in means of quantum teleportation, but "Source Code" does have an ending that's worthy of interpretation, much like Christopher Nolan's (much weaker) hit from last year. In fact, some of the same theories applied to "Inception" could work for Duncan Jones' new "director-for-hire" follow-up to "Moon." I'll wait until after the jump to go into details, since obviously this discussion will include spoilers. But while I do believe Jones (and maybe to a lesser degree the original screenwriter, Ben Ripley) sets up a precise idea of what happens at the end, I've already encountered people with different thoughts on it.

So if you haven't seen the movie yet, do so, and then check if your interpretation matches mine below.

Here is the literal ending: Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has repeatedly been leaping into the body of a man riding a commuter train 8 minutes away from total destruction, completes his mission and saves Chicago from a dirty bomb. He then asks Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) to send him back to the 8 minute "loop" one last time so that he can also save the people on the train -- a feat deemed impossible by "source code" inventor Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) -- and then at the end of the 8 minutes Goodwin is to pull the plug on the physical, comatose body of Stevens laying in the lab, thereby killing him. She fulfills both requests.

At the end of the 8 minutes, Stevens (in the body of Sean) kisses the girl (Michelle Monaghan) and time seems to freeze. Then it picks back up again and the couple goes out for their coffee and a visit to Cloud Gate in Chicago's AT&T Plaza and live happily ever after. Then, a kind of epilogue shows Goodwin arriving to work earlier that morning and receiving a text message from Stevens explaining that he has changed the course of the future by saving the passengers and that the comatose soldier in the lab will eventually go on to a different "first" "source code" mission one day. Hopefully that's as clear as the events can be laid out, though you also hopefully have seen the film so know what I'm talking about.

Firstly, here's the incorrect explanations that I've heard: Stevens is now split into two separate places at the same time,* because his consciousness is inside the body of Sean, like a "Quantum Leap" or "Being John Malkovich" kind of way, forever, whether he has control over the body or not (I guess because we see Gyllenhaal and only view Sean in mirrors, more like "Quantum Leap," Stevens is in control). And it is also inside the comatose, half-soldier laying in the lab awaiting his first mission. And none of this is a parodox in any way, because as the film acknowledges, the "source code" science may just be creating multiple alternate timelines/dimensions.

Or, all is the same but the Stevens spending time with the girl (her name is Christina) and the Stevens in the lab are in two separate timelines, because the text message created its own alternate reality. Or, all is the same but it is a paradox, because if the disaster was averted then no "source code" mission took place meaning nobody averted the disaster, etc.

But here's my explanation, which isn't too much different in terms of their possibly being multiple timelines, but I think it works even within a single reality, albeit a somewhat paradoxical one: Stevens returns to the train for its final 8 minutes and he succeeds in averting the disaster by handcuffing the terrorist and reporting his van full of explosives. However, when the 8 minutes is up, and the time appears to freeze, this is when Stevens would leap out of Sean's body and return to his own body.

Yet at that very same moment, Goodwin has terminated Stevens' body so instead of returning to the present he enters the afterlife. His afterlife looks exactly like the last moment of his consciousness, because this is what he wanted it to be. He held onto his perception of that last image and world and brought it with him to use it as a projection in his post-death consciousness, which is kind of like a dream. Actually, it's not much different from the projected surroundings he experienced in the present, the hatch and pilot garb he felt safe in while suspended in the limbo of the coma (or whatever state his mind was living in), and the explanation of that is where he got the idea that he could do the same in death, provided consciousness still exists after our body dies.

So the entire sequence of events from the moment that time on the train unfreezes up through to the Cloud Gate (and beyond, after the film ends) is like Stevens' heaven, as weird as it may be for him to still see someone else's face in the mirror, and all the other people are a part of his imagination. As I said, this sort of afterlife is like a dream, and so the other people, including Christina, are just subconscious projections and not the real deal. I'll admit, this is how I expect the afterlife to be, like an eternal sleep/dream.

Meanwhile, somewhere, the real Sean is alive, and maybe is even having coffee with the real Christina, but there is no Stevens inside his head. And the epilogue is in the same world as that real Sean and Christina wandering around either together or apart. Whether it is a paradox or an alternate timeline from the original one in which Goodwin sent Stevens back and then ultimately terminated him is not that important. Unless you want to assume that Stevens isn't dead and is currently dreaming his date with Christina while laying in the lab, and that moment of time freezing merely rebooted him back into the lab anew. Regardless, he's not in two places at once.*

And hopefully all that makes sense, whether you agree with it or not. As always, these time travel movies and their quantum-based explanations are tricky and will likely require some further thought and repeat reading and viewing. For now, though, let's try to work out other thoughts down below.


* Because of the confusion, I must note that by "two places at once" I mean within the same dimension/reality/timeline and didn't intend to dismiss the parallel worlds idea. But even with that said, I might have been confusing myself. He could technically be in two places at the same time the way there are simultaneously two Martys in 1955 in "Back to the Future," due to time travel. I just mean his consciousness itself could not be split in half. Anyway, I'm giving myself another headache.


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390 Comments

  • dsds | July 10, 2014 5:22 AMReply

    fgfgfg

  • Ethnic Food | July 5, 2014 12:12 AMReply

    Wonderful interesting post. I really like it

  • QuantumGuru | May 31, 2014 12:17 PMReply

    I agree with the reviewer up until the frozen moment in time. At this point, Stevens remains in Sean's body and Sean enters Steven's body at the lab.

  • yielfeds03 | May 27, 2014 4:21 AMReply

    But how come Capt. Goodwin received the email from Capt. Stevens where in fact, the email was sent while Capt. Stevens is inside the Source Code and Capt. Goodwin is in real time??

  • Jimmy zheng | July 11, 2014 3:37 PM

    No no. Capt Stephens message was sent to the Goodwin within the Source Code. At the end you see Goodwin reading the message and Rutledge being informed of Derek's failed attempt of the bombing.

  • Lauren | April 17, 2014 1:28 AMReply

    hold up yall. The ending isn't the confusing part. How did Source Code access the memories of people who were obliterated?? And with such detail. I can't even conjure up the details of my outfit to that degree.

  • x1101011x | March 10, 2014 12:41 AMReply

    This is one of the most straightforward movies I have ever seen. They are completely upfront about everything that happens; nothing is perplexing at all.

    The plot of this movie is based on an elementary understanding of the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics and modal realism. The multiverse interpretation states that every possible outcome actually happens in an alternate universe, and modal realism asserts that every possible universe is as 'real' as the world we perceive.

    - Source Code -
    The source code machine works by harvesting the memories of a deceased victim. These memories provide a snapshot of the scene from the perspective of the victim. This picture is, of course, incomplete. A likely explanation is that the source code software creates a model of the events around the constraints imposed by the memories and fills in the remaining details with weighted random data. (Since the victim has no created memories after his death, the data would become imprecise after this point, so the simulation would be terminated). In fact, even more likely, is that they simply force these memories into the captain's mind, and his brain fills in the details with random data that he perceives to be likely. This explains how he is able to move about and why minor details of each trip vary, but the memorable, qualitative, dimensionally reduced data remains constant (e.g., her message is the same, but her exact wording varies). He is exploring similar universes -- universes closely related in the multiverse tree -- in the hope that the information he seeks is the same in both this branch and 'our' branch.

    - Multiple Worlds -
    There are not two captains; there are infinitely many captains. Each time he is sent on a trip, they are not creating a new universe. He does not create a new universe when he sends a text; no new universes are created ever. Rather, these universes already exist -- as does every conceivable possibility. When he experiences what appears to be a universe, he is exploring another branch of the multiverse. (Technically, his own consciousness *is* a branch of the multiverse itself -- which is never interrupted -- and the differences you see are more like isomorphisms from a segment of one universe to a segment of another, which only appear to be separate universes because of how you process this data). No matter what the captain does, he cannot change anything; he can only change which branch of the multiverse his consciousness follows (which is only an illusion generated by the arrow of time and limited information from the past).

    - Quantum Immortality (Suicide) -
    Since every possibility already exists, there are most certainly worlds where he is sent in on a trip, the eight minutes pass, and he finds himself to still be there. This is why they have him die in all but the last trip -- to remove ambiguity (as well as to get you to wonder what would happen if he managed to avoid death). You see, the limitless multiverse is what creates the random events we observe (constrained by our priors), so what you see is an event drawn from the distribution of events *given you exist*. Since his experiences in these universes resulted in death, his consciousness could not continue in this path. Instead, it took the next probable path: that these experiences were all part of his participation in this program to explore the multiverse for intel on a threat (of course, it was really the writers who took the path). This is the principle of the quantum suicide thought experiment, that, from the perspective of the individual, each person is immortal because (1) they cannot experience futures in which they do not exist and (2) the multiverse always contains at least one universe where this individual exists. Due to the hierarchical structure of mathematical objects (complex objects are composed of simpler objects) there are 'far more' simple worlds than complex worlds, so that the perceived future will almost certainly be the 'simplest' in a certain sense (that sense being cardinalities of infinities, hence our computable universe). This explains why we see his consciousness continue to exist in the universe he was exploring during his last trip: he did not exist in the previous one, so he continued in the next probable one, which seems very likely to be the one in which he is, since continuity appears 'simpler' empirically. Of course, there are still futures where Goodwin does not pull the plug, etc., etc. But, as we know, the reality we are shown is just as valid as any of these -- and seems fairly probable at that (the scientific impossibilities already take for granted).

    - Visions -
    During transitions between trips, the captain perceives events that appear to include both past events (his service and death) and future events (Christina's reflection in the artsy mirror). The most likely explanation is that these were simply things on his mind at the time, and he had not actually experienced events from his own future timeline. Cloud Gate is famous, and its omphalos is a metaphor of the multiple universes he experienced -- which is why it was used by the writers and why he would probably think of it, if not consciously, along with the girl for whom he was obviously falling. This is backed by the fact that the subject matter of the flashes closely relates with the subject matter prior to his return.

    - Conclusion -
    So, there you have it: no spirits or gods or time travel or broken premises. Just pop culture physics down to a tee. And the word "fate" to get you all riled up.

  • tim | February 9, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    TNT has been showing this all weekend. If you believe in souls, it's not difficult to understand the idea of the souls switching. Sean was dead anyway. Think Meet Joe Black. Death takes over the dead body of the Brad Pitt character and lives in that body for several days. Then, when death leaves, he gives it back to the original owner (even though he had been dead).

    It seems to me in this movie, in the end, Colter took over the body (soul) of Sean.

  • Susan | February 9, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    Just watched today. I have a headache from the possibilities.

  • Markus | February 9, 2014 3:38 PMReply

    okay, this is so old and you won't ever see this probably....but while i agree w some of what you said on "source code"...get off your effing high horse w this line:

    "much like Christopher Nolan's (much weaker) hit..."

    umm, I'm sorry, but no way is source code better in any way than Inception. You are probably one of those Nolan haters who completely misses the point with his films. Duncan Jones is great, I loved Moon and thought Source Code was great, but I don't understand all the backhanded BS hatred on Nolan like you spit out so casually there. Inception was the most original movie Hollywood has seen in years and yeah, it wasn't perfect, but it was way better than this. get over yourself man.

  • Mark | February 9, 2014 3:38 PMReply

    hhh

  • GEOFF | January 19, 2014 5:53 PMReply

    Okay, so the whole film is in the real world, up to the point when the life support is terminated (including the altered 8 min source code simulations Stevens is experiencing. Then the moment on the train unfreezes and the rest of the film is in the split universe/afterlife (pick your preference) including the bit where the captain receives the text - all fine and dandy. But how does she know Derek Frost's name, (she whispers as she overhears it at the end) if this is the split universe/afterlife in which she has had no interaction with Stevens yet? That is the only bit that doesn't add up...

  • Jeff | January 11, 2014 8:27 PMReply

    Notice the line "Everything's going to be okay" a wink to the Donnie Darko fans.
    The attack was averted in an alternate universe.
    But that's okay cause who's to say that's not our universe? Maybe the universe where he only stops the dirty bomb from destroying Chicago is an alternate universe from ours.

  • samson | January 8, 2014 7:58 AMReply

    don't make such dangerous film i will pop my head off

    and those people use any unconscious man against there will should be killed

  • yogesh | December 24, 2013 3:40 AMReply

    hi

  • Carol | December 7, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    I think the captians conscience is completely superimposed over Sean's. It almost seems as if he will be able to re-enter his own body as needed while living in Sean's. This will enable him to complete future missions as needed while still living in his ideal dreamworld.

  • J | October 31, 2013 5:09 PMReply

    it sounds like a Matrix-type thing. i'm assuming now the Capt's "brain" is existing in the source code "universe". it will remain living there until the program is terminated. the text to the woman and everything after is in that "universe". meanwhile.. in real life, his body is dead, the woman that was running the exercise is in trouble, etc.
    one place i'm stuck.. is that when he would go back and forth from the capsule to the train.. he would see images of the park where he and Christina ended up. that part confuses me.

  • Russell | October 26, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    this is deep im lost in a paralel time zone with hannah wheres the bomb?

  • Duy | July 30, 2013 8:16 PMReply

    lol, dude the movie idea was good but the ending was lacking. And it would create a paradox, because they would have to send the "other" colter to do the same thing. And the part where they the girl gets the text, a "God" mod if you will...which is like...sure ok. Like what everyone else said, the movie was super specific about what source code was. It wasn't to change anything but to get information. And lol at the part where he busted d. frost like he was a badass..i love the guy as a actor but the script they gave him......meh..he was able to go back and do the same thing over and over until he got it right, and when he did he wanted to be an ass about it...

  • kyle | September 20, 2013 5:08 PM

    yup, colter is now sean, the first colter seen now exists in an alternate reality where the train never blew up, but sean never existed because colter is sean. Sean never existed in this reality, he did in the first one where he was blown up, hense in the new reality, no sean, just colter. When sean sent that text he was already occupying another universe. Its not a time travel movie. Its a multi-dimensional/realities movie.

  • Walter | September 8, 2013 10:10 PM

    I think you missed the point. They don't need to send Colter to do the same thing because he is just a copy. He is not going to the past, they created a new reality. In this reality the attack never happened and Colter was never used in the program... that's all. Imagine that they kill the "other" Colter, what would happen? anything. The problem is that you are thinking it like there was 2 Colters and 0 Seans. Remember than Colter "is now" Sean.

  • duy | July 30, 2013 8:17 PM

    and try to look pass my grammer lol.

  • Carlos Lincoln Marks | July 20, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    The ending is unexpectedly great.

  • powerisastateofmind | July 13, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    It's absolutely stunning how people can simoultanaeusly a) explain the surprisingly complex plot of this film and b) have a total lack of understanding of basic spelling and grammar. HOW have these people been educated?!

  • DCA | January 4, 2014 9:41 AM

    I think the word you're after is 'simultaneously'. Perhaps before attacking others for their spelling, you should ensure that yours is correct.

    Foul, disgusting and uneducated donkey that you are.

  • Sam | January 3, 2014 2:47 AM

    This is the stupidest thing I've ever read in my life. Not knowing how to speak or write English doesn't mean you can't think. They saw the movie. Understood who screwed who. Explained the 'surprisingly complex plot'. That's that. Which one was the dumb one in your mom and dad?

  • Mike | June 9, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    Towards the end of the movie, Stevens made the phone call to speak to his dad. He mentioned earlier in the movie that if he had one minute to live, he'd like to speak to his father just one more time. The actor portraying his father on the phone? Scott Bakula, of 'Quantam Leap' fame - someone else who went back in time to 'fix things'. Nice touch!

  • ALex | May 30, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    I believe that it all comes down to a fact explained early in the movie by the doctor. They have 8 minutes after a person dies to mess up with the brain. Well, the reality, is that Stevens is not dead while he´s being artificially supported in the lab, he is in a comma. So, the last 8 minutes, correspond to those extra 8 minutes after he is really dead, in which his imagination determines the reality until his mind truly vanishes.

    Plus, if you may notice, since Stevens is disconnected, the movie ends after 8 minutes...

  • Branko | December 8, 2013 1:59 AM

    I like your version. Nice and simple, and most elegant.... it's also one of the only conclusions that can be supported entirely by what's stated in the movie itself.
    But for the explanation of the movie's whole premise, please see Brian's March 9 posting below.
    Unfortunately, the movie's plot doesn't stick to the "science" that they explain at the beginning. They should not be able to alter the actions of people in the past... which they do with Sean throughout the movie.

  • Kyle | July 14, 2013 11:34 PM

    Not to be a stickler but the movie does not end 8 min after he is disconnected. Stevens is disconnected @ 1:22:14 and the credits roll at 1:27:03...

  • Loogic | June 25, 2013 1:57 AM

    I think this is the more realistic explanation. I personally don't believe in any supernatural and after life stuff. The thing that is the most unknown to us that is likely the most logical cause of all these "supernatural" stuff is our brain and how it works. It has the power to alter the reality, but only for the person with that particular brain. The true reality doesn't change or go back in time. But one person's perception of reality (projection from his brain) can be altered and time-traveled, etc.

    So if you believe in that statement, then the explanation for the movie is that the 8 minutes is only a brain simulation. At the end, when the life support is pulled, the brain has about 8 minutes of life left. This 8 minutes though, to the person and that brain, may seem like an eternity. Hence the notion of "they living happily ever after". And the text message is also another part of the final brain dream that the captain is having. In true reality, the 2nd bomb was saved, but not the first one.

  • wil | June 10, 2013 12:10 AM

    interesting explanation mate. I thought the same thing myself however i didnt realize the movie ends 8 minutes after he is disconnected. However I'm now realizing our theory seems to neglect the whole bit where the text message makes an alternate timeline?

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  • Katniss Everdeen | May 13, 2013 12:51 AMReply

    Now this movie opened my mind to completely endless possibilities. HAHA
    have faith in GOD. and stop over-thinking.

  • Kelly | April 8, 2013 11:14 AMReply

    This could be very real like somebody I know that is mysterious from your friend Kelly

  • Brian | March 9, 2013 11:35 PMReply

    Rubbish. The movie and this review (though the review suffers mostly because the movie was so bad). First, he's not going back in time, he's reliving the last 8 minutes of memories from a dead guy. They were very clear about that. One of the train-bombing victim's brain was harvested and the last 8 minutes of his memories were loaded into the Source Code program so the Capt. could review them for clues as to who the bomber is/was. I really wish they hadn't been that detailed in the description of how this works, because from there nothing, and I mean nothing about the rest of the movie makes sense. First, Sean's memories would not have included the location of the bomb. Period. The capt. shouldn't have been able to see anything Sean hadn't when he lived through it, including the location of the bomb. But the biggest issue comes from the fact that he's not traveling through time, his consciousness has been loaded into a simulation, a computer program IN THE PRESENT. So, never having gone back in time, he absolutely cannot impact the future. The 8 minutes he was repeating were being relived in the present. He may as well have sent his text from inside Halo or World of Warcraft. The in-movie explanation of the "science" behind Source Code is completely inadequate to allow for any "alternate timelines" or "alternate dimensions". So it all hinges on the line, "You've created something more that you thought". Nice out... it feels like a total afterthought. While this was a fun movie if you don't actually think about it, at all, it fails except for the most liberal application of suspension of disbelief.

  • Branko | December 8, 2013 1:31 AM

    I liked the movie... except the ending. It would have been better if he just died and that's it - none of that Hollywood feel-good stuff.
    But that's actually why I like your explanation the best, and it's the only one that makes the most sense all around. Real time always keeps moving forward, so changing and controlling the actions of someone who has died in the past is impossible. They could only harvest his true consciousness as it was, and explore it for clues. They can't create anything new that didn't happen while he was alive. So, the movie plot goes against its own premise, which is too bad, since on the face of it I thought that overall the movie was very good.

  • Buddy Kaybay | June 18, 2013 1:59 PM

    Brian, you've hit the nail on the head! I thought I was the only one to catch that.

  • Ruth | March 12, 2013 11:18 AM

    Sean never once stepped off the train from when he got on, to when it blew up. Yet the captain did . This is the whole point! What your saying is rubbish and you have missed a trick.

  • Muhammed | February 23, 2013 6:10 PMReply

    there is something amazing i noticed, at the start of the film good win was asking him to remember her name as she knew that he know her name, that mean that have received the email from him right before the movie even started

  • Bob Terry | February 15, 2013 11:09 PMReply

    Let me just remind you all that when Goodwin got the text at the end of the movie, that was in the Source Code Dimension. They had Steven's body in the support machine and they were just waiting for a disaster to happen. You hear that the bomb attempt had been thwarted as Goodwin walks into the boss's office. The two dimensions were not connected; the text was sent to the Goodwin who showed up for work at the Nellis base, but she knew she was awaiting a disaster to use the Source Code to find the killer for. The only connection between the dimensions was Steven's memory of the original dimension.

  • Caroline | February 9, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    Totally don't agree with your interpretation ... you forgot to mention the very long text message. A long text message like that would cost like 5 text messages. And, is there um, texting from Heaven now ?

  • Scott Bakula | February 5, 2013 8:57 AMReply

    Duncan Jones on twitter - “So for those who got thrown by the ending... you have to remember that Colter keeps arguing he is in a parallel reality” Also - “So if Colter now in parallel reality, that must mean in NEW reality, there are two Colter’s.. one in Sean, and one in... the box!” Cheers!

  • Hi | February 5, 2013 10:00 AM

    'So COLTER IS OFF THE TRAIN!... possible if he was Sean Fentress? NO! Cause this is NOT a MEMORY! First major parallel reality hint

  • Dan | February 5, 2013 9:05 AM

    I bloody knew it! All this talk of freezing on the kiss....or his 'heaven' was a load of rubbish!

  • Bertie | February 5, 2013 7:44 AMReply

    Funny how this film mirrors, Donnie Darko. Travel back in time, Frank also a dead guy sent back in time because of a quantum parralax, Dead Guy Saves the world.

    Does not matter how you see it, everything is based on one perspective and everyone has a different perspective,

  • Chris | February 3, 2013 6:36 PMReply

    Heres my interpretation, God loved him and gave him more life, he selflessly acted and so God rewarded him for it. You see if you put God in there, it all makes sense, Sean Ventress ended up in heaven, and Cpt Coulter-Stevens was given the life that his service in the military denied him. (Do you believe in fate?).

  • So | February 2, 2013 12:56 PMReply

    What I don't get is the idea of Goodwin getting the text that the people on the train was saved. Is it that her dimension went "back into time" and the bombing didn't happen? If so, I believe the source code machine turns back time. How else would Captain Stevens be in the source code machine?

  • duke | February 1, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    I'm sorry, but the ending is pretty clear. He is in a different dimension created by the source code. This isn't a heaven he's dreaming off. He is living in a different dimension, hence the email he sent to goodwing at the end saying that there is more to the source code than they were aware of.

  • ray | February 5, 2013 8:58 AM

    Spot on!

  • SAM | January 22, 2013 8:39 PMReply

    I think the movie should have ended with the freeze-frame kiss. This is what the whole story was building towards. Think about it: from his cell, the only thing he wants to do is call his dad and tell him he was sorry. In this ending he does. As Sean, he continually asks, "If you only had one minute to live, what would you do?" He dies doing what he wanted -- kissing the girl. And it gave Colter something he was denied by the military -- a dignified death; this is something Goodwin wanted him to have. And finally, is a weird sci-fi way, he gives the people a chance to die happy; with a smile on their faces. I wish the movie would have faded to black during that frozen frame. That would have been my perfect ending.

  • Karen | January 16, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    I have it set to play every time it comes on satellite (no matter what channel) - so far, would guestimate have viewed about 30 times at least...each time I see it, there are "things I missed" or changed my interpretation ... (yes, I 'have a life' outside of Source Code, but I really love this film!...there are others, Unstoppable, DejaVu, Frequency, Lake House -- you may notice a certain "pattern"...) ... anyway, he changes history so to speak, wish I could "go back and do that" about some things -- and he "gets the girl"... my most favorite moments, when he busts D.Frost and when Goodwin gets the email in the changed history early monday a.m. (on the lighter side, how about a Source Code 2, he's in another 'situation' and meets Sean :)

  • jaret paynter | January 11, 2013 8:01 PMReply

    This might be a little late but whatever, here's my theory. Let us forget the failed attempts and instead only remember the last one where time seems to freeze as he is kissing Christina and also remember the real world that is now saved from dirty bombs. The real world is Universe A and the source code world is Universe B. In Universe A everyone is safe and we see Captain Steven taken off of that life support system and Chicago is saved. End of story for Universe A. However is Universe B Captain Steven (in Sean's body) is seen kissing Christina as the comedian makes everyone laugh. Sadly, this world is terminated because in Universe A Goodwin "killed" him. What we see after Universe B is paused (from it being turned off) is Captain Steven's afterlife/Heaven. As that is where he most wanted to be when he died. So now Captain Steven (still in Sean's body) is living his afterlife with Universe B as his Heaven. All in all a very good movie and I wished they would go ahead and make a show out of it.

  • Karen | January 16, 2013 8:58 PM

    saw your note after I posted my own today (Jan 16/2013). I wish they would too.

  • Ben | January 13, 2013 11:57 PM

    But what about the message goodwin received ???
    Does that mean both universe are, connected ???

  • manny | January 6, 2013 6:35 AMReply

    YASASA | JUNE 27, 2012 1:59 AM
    this one made the most sence to me read it up

  • Rishi Kumar | December 26, 2012 3:04 AMReply

    I want to assume the universe/ timeframe where the film is taking place is Universe/Timeframe A. The captain was sent to that 8 min cycle many times which means he was sent to other universe/ timeframes, No need to label those universes. At last Captain Steven's was sent to another time frame/ Universe by goodwin on behalf of Captain's wish. This could be labelled as Universe/Timeframe B. Now in Timeframe B the following events happen

    1->Captain's consciousness in Sean's body sent message to goodwin in that universe/time frame (whatever you call). In this time frame also Steven is dead already in Afghanistan plane crash.

    2->After calling his dad from sean's body, challenging comedian etc., He kisses christina. Time freezes.

    3-> The time freezes after that 8 mins.

    Now in Timeframe A on captain's wish, goodwin unplugged Captain's life support, Captain's program is terminated. Now captains emotion is satisfied, to end his life and conscious while happy (kissing christina). Goodwin faces the justice.

    The scene resumes in Timeframe B. The scenes resume after time freeze. Captain's conscious left Sean's body. Now it's Sean's conscious in Sean's body. We were shown Captain steven walking with christina in order to fulfill viewer's emotions. Here in timeframe B, where the disaster has been averted, Goodwin receives the message from sean (which was sent by Captain steven's conscious while in Sean's body).

    Conclusion :
    1)Captain Steven is dead in both the timeframes.
    2)Sean's conscious resumes in Sean's body after time freeze in Timeframe B.
    3)Captain's source code project is terminated in Timeframe A while it is yet to make it's debut in Timeframe B.

    AS SIMPLE AS THAT. Ur views are welcomed. Have a Great day.

  • Martin | December 24, 2012 10:43 PMReply

    I think he needs to send himself back in 8 minute blocks of times back until he reaches the time that he got injured almost died in the war to prevent that from happening and so he never had to be put in the source code and thus preventing him to stop that event... I am getting confused!

  • Acacia | December 23, 2012 6:35 AMReply

    I still don't understand. If he really did die, then who sent the text message prior to the mission?

  • this is how i see it | December 6, 2012 8:45 AMReply

    There are many different timelines running and in each timeline the same exact events either have happened, will happen, or are happening (up until 'source code' was used). Each time Stevens was sent back into the assumed memory of Sean, his mind was being sent to a different timeline (a different Sean) in which the events have not yet taken place. Stevens' mind is essentially taking place of Sean's and whenever sean dies, Stevens' mind is sent back with the help of source code to his own timeline. When Stevens plugged is pulled in his timeline, while his mind is stuck in seams body, he is being removed from source code and is forever assumes the body of Sean in the last timeline he was sent to. Therefore, yes there are two different stevens', one in a machine waiting to be sent to another timeline for a different mission and one in the mind of Sean. Hope it came out the way it was in my head.

  • raju | November 16, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    Christopher...mate sorry to say that you got it wrong...tomson explanations seems to be valid.....

  • raju | November 16, 2012 1:38 PM

    oops I meant Thomas above..my bad..

  • Thomas | November 11, 2012 7:46 AMReply

    Hi there!

    My theory is just parallel universes, alternate reality, or a second dimension (and third, fourth and so on). And no Time Travel. Every time he goes in to Source Code, he enters a new dimension or a new alternate reality, that they BELIVE cant be changed, because nothing really changes about what happens in the first dimension. They are only using it to get information to prevent further things to happen, if they get the information in time.

    First dimension: everyone at the train dies, they get the INFORMATION through Source Code from another dimension to stop the next explosion. Thats all they can achieve in the first dimension, and also repeated through the whole film. Then Goodwin let's Stevens die.

    Last dimension: After Stevens through Source Code have delivered his information to the first dimension, he is sent back in one last time by Goodwin. He saves the girl and the world, calls he's dad like he never got the chance to in the first dimension before he died, and also sends the message to Goodwin in that same dimension that same day (not to the first dimension). Telling her all about that Source Code is really working in a way they never would have expected and that she is gonna tell Steves that "everything's going to be all right" instead of what he was told in his dimension, about being dead and so on. So everything in that last part is really happening in another dimension where everyone was saved.

    And in that dimension Source Code is just going prove it self in another "project". Because like it says in the message from Stevens (Sean) and the information we get in that scene, everything is prevented that day.

    And that image of the metal thing on the plaza that flashes every time he goes into Source Code, that we see in the end. Where he also asks "Do you believe in destiny?" Could point to that in this dimension or alternate reality , this was meant to happen by the choices that where made in this reality and therefore he also had the flashes/memory about this when he was going in and out of new realties. So now he will just continue to live Sean's destiny in this dimension.

    Of course there could be a lot of holes in my theory, but just thought i'd share it with you :)

    Anyway, an awesome movie!

    Thomas

  • Thomas | November 11, 2012 7:55 AM

    Of course when I write "Last dimension: After Stevens through Source Code have delivered his information to the first dimension, he is sent back in one last time by Goodwin" Should of course have had that sentence under "First dimension:" before he dies. Of course that happens from the first dimension and not in the last.

    But no way to edit here :P

    But I hope you guys understand it anyway :)

  • Pruthvi Kaveti | November 9, 2012 5:00 AMReply

    I absolutely agree with the above explanation. It is the most reasonable and logical inference possible and even satisfying as far as my understanding goes....

  • Sean | July 14, 2013 5:30 AM

    A reasonable interpretation though clearly not everyone on the train is saved in the last alternate reality. Sean's consciousness appears to have gone kaput.

  • Scotty | November 5, 2012 8:22 AMReply

    Watch the making of the film if you can - It hightlights the main theme and ideas of different parallel universes! Sorry to those who thinks the film should have ended at the kiss or it was his heaven...but your wrong! Thanks.

  • Phil I. Steen | October 28, 2012 12:41 AMReply

    The one thing no one talks about is the march of time between the train explosion and the dirty bomb discovery/arrest. Stevens goes back to the memory he inhabits, it seems, dozens of times. So, we can assume that at least a couple of hours have passed from the initial, or "real," train explosion and Stevens' discovery of the bomber. Why is the bomber still on the road? He has had at least a couple of hours to get to his destination and to detonate the dirty bomb, but no he seems to be apprehended in reality just after leaving the train station after the Stevens discovers him in the delayed memory trip.

  • blacksworn | October 25, 2012 5:09 AMReply

    The Movie Source Code Can be Interpreted is many ways but the Only Logical Interpretation is Time Travel and Alternate Reality.
    So Let us Dissect the Source Code? what is Source Code?
    Did the inventor Dr. Rutledge is aware of the Capability of his Inventions and an alternate Reality ? Yes
    When Captain Colter Stevens tell Dr. Rutledge that he talk to him from a cell phone while in the Train Dr. Rutledge replied something like that's not me that's a different me.
    Dr. Rutledge is aware of the Possibility of an alternate Reality, after all he is the Inventor.
    when Captain Colter Stevens talks to Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge about the Possibility of saving the People on the Train, They replied the people on the Train are already dead but he says he saves a girl and goodwin look up on the computer and tells him she is shown as dead in the Explosion. so Literally everyone on the train is already dead and there is No savings going to happen in this reality. They send him in there to catch the Bomber?????? and to prevent another Explosion. ( Nuclear Explosion) How????????
    How did the source code Retrieve last eight minutes of another man's consciousness?
    Could they extract the Brain of the man from the explosion, it was probably a nuclear Explosion? thats Impossible.
    The Source code is a type of Time Travel Machine. Capt. Stevens is wired to the Machine and is Uploaded into another man body the source code helps to cross over into another man’s identity. So stevens went into the Past just 8 minutes before explosions and so after many attempts identified the Bomber and avoided the future explosions from happening.
    if the Movie ended there nobody would talk about it.
    Stevens decided to saves the people on the Train, because he experience the alternate reality is real enough for him, the people on the train are real enough and the girl is worth saving even though they are all dead in a different reality.
    Stevens says: ''If you're reading this email, then Source Code works even better than you and Dr. Rutledge imagined. He thought you were creating eight minutes of a past event. But you're not. You have created a whole new world'
    So when he goes back and stop the explosion from happening he Created a new Reality. If goodwin did'nt terminate him. He would be brought back after the 8 minutes lapse and still be hooked up to the source code/life support system. But since Goodwin killed him on his request. he stayed back in the second alternate reality.
    Summary:
    1.In the First reality Goodwin will face Military Court martial and Capt. Steven is dead.
    2.In the Second Reality Dr. Rutledge is still waiting for his Big day for a situation to use Capt. Stevens and his Invention the source code because the explosion never happens.
    3.In the second Reality Capt. Steven is like a Ghost Possessing the Body of sean and sean is still alive but his mind got replace by stevens, how he is going to explain to the girl is a different matter.

    Inconclusion:
    Capt. Steven is send back to the past just 8 minutes before the Explosion and since he stop the explosion from happening thereby creating a new alternate timeline different from the first reality.
    But the questions remain, there are two different Capt. stevens.
    one still hooked up to the source code /life support system and the other in possession of another man body. What happens when Steven is terminated in the source code in the second reality, will seans come back into his own body ? where is seans mind now? did the alternate reality created two stevens, with two independent mind???? Am i Confused or is the author of the source code missing something there????

  • Olly | February 2, 2013 12:50 PM

    In the context of the film there are infinite number of universes transporting Capt. Steven's consciousness into Sean's in one of the infinite number of alternate universes. All they thought all they were doing was reliving 8 minutes. As Capt. Steven's consciousness can only be present in one universe at a time after the 8 minutes it is returned, but as Goodwin terminates his life it continues to exist in the alternate universe. Therefore Capt. Steven's conciousness exists in two worlds, this is allowed as his consciousness from one world was put into the alternate universe by replacing Sean's. The only thing I wonder about is where Sean's conciousness goes?

  • Laura | October 21, 2012 4:45 PMReply

    This is the ending explanation to Source Code that I was looking for to satisfy me. Thanks!

  • AJTM82 | October 14, 2012 10:11 AMReply

    I have just read several of the comments in addition to Christopher's taken on the ending and can't help but notice everyone (from the comments I have read a least) seems to be skipping the part that in the end when we see the epilogue of sorts, Goodwin has received an e-mail from the '8 minutes as Sean' Stevens from the past and is reading it while she overhears Dr. Rutledge say that a crisis will arise which will allow Source Code to prove its worth. Which means the attack on the train which served as the need to send Stevens into Sean's mind has not happened (and will not because the culprit is handcuffed in the train) at all!
    This is a grade-A mind-$&@! for me!

  • John | October 12, 2012 6:04 AMReply

    I've read most of these.. And to save most of you time--the June 27th comment by yasasa is pretty interesting. Hard to follow but think hard and it makes sense!

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  • Kyle | September 18, 2012 8:42 PMReply

    The OP thinks this movie was better than Inception? I liked this movie, but it definitely isn't on the level of Inception really in any regard. Writing, plot, character arc, photography, ending. As far as the ending goes for this movie, I think it is a little to open for interpretation due to the lack of explanation for the premise itself. I believe they were trying to hint at multiple universes, as well as somehow tying in the memories of Sean (and a "fated" future) with the flashbacks the Captain was having when being sent back in to the source code, but I don't think the movie does a very good job at even bringing the viewer to the end in a way that they can even begin to create an interpretation that makes sense. Unlike Inception, that despite it's ambiguity at the end, throughout the journey Christopher Nolan provided us with the means to create multiple interpretations for what we think actually took place, and how it ended.

  • Shaun | October 3, 2012 9:05 AM

    I liked Source code better, Inception inside a dream, inside a dream, inside a dream...is he really dreaming? Yeah great...the end was shite and a let down with the spinner top. Fine it was a bigger budget movie but this is about parallel universes and toys with quantum physics way better..and i would want to see a sequel to this movie way more than Inception. Its all about opinions thou right?

  • Abhi WT | September 13, 2012 8:16 PMReply

    Making the most sense out of this movie and as per my own little research and theories, every person lives his life jumping from one universe to the next every .3 millionth of a second. Take the parallel universes as fixed frames of a moment, and you'd agree that the universe we know is so big that it might contain endless exactly similar universes (still frames) within... and as we jump from one to another... we feel the passage of time. In fact, if you divide a sec into the least known quantity of time ( i.e. 1/.3million sec - cause speed of light is the base for time calculation) the number you get is the universes you'll pass in a sec. Thus its very safe to assume that our life is like an energy beam passing through infinite parallel placed similar universes frames, exciting each frame as that particular moment of our life passes by. Then if you are "Adam" here in this moment (or universe) there are infinitely many exact "Adams" for each moment up to the time you are supposed to live ( say 80 yr)!! Now you can imagine why this Universe we see is so endless and flat!
    Now to top it all... as i said, our life is an energy beam, similar to light. As light has frequency, so does our life. That means the energy beam keeps on falling on a single universe frame one wave behind the other ( i.e. jumping) till its exhausted ( our lifespan). Thus just a moment behind us is our nearest exact copy. I have passed this moment as such, he might pass it with a slight difference, and so will the next one ( cause of constant planar motion of our universes). Thus on a long enough timeline, my nearest exact copy a moment behind me, will accumulate enough differences from me (due to varying decisions- conscious or sub-conscious) to lead a different life. Now think of the exact copy of mine 2 hour behind me, he'll be leading a very different life, but still he'd exactly me with the same parents and all.
    So, we say- A single decision can change our life. Its completely true up to the base.

    I guess any person with enough understanding will get answers about everything from this stuff i have written ( along with the movie core). For the others who got bored with my thesis, read again or can't help it!
    Thanks

  • M Riyan Andrianus | September 7, 2012 5:51 AMReply

    It's the most perfect explanation. So, when the source code is unplugged by Goodwin, the Colter in real world died but... the unpredictable is.. the new timeline begins, and his brain still stuck in Sean's body because it's the new timeline. the present doesnt exist anymore. and why it created new timeline? and why it didnt stop in 8 minutes? because Sean didnt die. His brain just replaced by Colter from old timeline.

    and more important, I think this new timeline, replaced the old timeline. so this movie doesnt show parallel world etc but it's like time paradox. the final is just one world. no real world and no source code world. it's just one world with new timeline. it's make the email was sent by Colter to Goodwin make sense. they are in same world. But with different alternate timeline. in new timeline, the source code never used anymore because the bomb never exists. so in the end, there are two Colter. The one in Sean's body (and IDK and it doesnt matter what would happen with him and Christina, his entire life, etc), and Another one in Lab waiting for First Souce Code project. (because only Goodwin the one who knows actually the sorce code have been used since received the email from old timeline Colter).

    and yeah, this is actually a great movie if u understand.

    I'm Riyan.

  • Dan I think I've got it | August 30, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    Totally agree with the writer of this article. My opinion/trouble is the last line of the film said by Captain Stevens: "Goodwin, if I'm right, you have a Captain Colter Stevens waiting to send on a mission, promise me you'll help him, and when you do, do me a favour - tell him everything is going to be ok!" The only iffy bit of this line is the "If I'm right" bit. Leaving possiblity that he's wrong and dead/lucid dream/afterlife blah. Think about this: (brought to my attention by my clever lady friend) If Captain Stevens is living in Sean's body... where is Sean? It can't happen. My only conclusion is this... The director fucked up. Or... Captain Stevens is living as Sean, (he wouldn't choose his afterlife as someone else now, would he?!) until he gets called up again from Source code as it clearly states through the film that his father always knew that Captain Stevens, his son, wanted to save people. So, Captain Stevens will work for Source Code again because he wants to help people that might need him. What do you think? I welcome your suggestions... I'll smash 'em away with a source code bat! BOOM!!!

  • Amy | August 9, 2012 4:45 AMReply

    RH - Since when do you have dreams of stuff that has yet to happen...and then does. Have a re-think!!

  • Tip Hat | August 7, 2012 5:20 AMReply

    Duncan Jones needs to do more movies!!

  • RH | August 6, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    You folks DO realize this was a science-FICTION movie, right? While I loved the premise and it was well done, it's only a movie.

    You can argue all day about the characters and if they were in heaven or parallel universes or quantum dimensions or inside "source code", there is no explaining it other that it should have stopped at the freeze frame shot of the kiss. However, I'm sure the test audiences wanted a happy ending, so they wrote it in, as Hollywood so often does. Personally, I prefer endings that make sense, even if unhappy.

  • Alamo | August 7, 2012 5:18 AM

    Yeah gotta love it thou....and re; 'it should have stopped at the freeze frame of the kiss' yeah that's one idea mate...but it didn't. And so you have to ask why...and some of the ideas are linked to what the character was SAYING and SEEING though out the movie. The flash backs, the fact he went against what the creator of the source code believed (flat out said he was wrong) and also the images he was seeing. This leads me to believe there is more to it...which is cool...maybe one of the suggestions you say 'parallel universes' (i like) 'quantum dimensions' 'inside the source code itself' 'heaven' or there is more to it.

  • RH | August 6, 2012 1:35 AM

    Having said the above, I completely believed the premise of the Matrix. Lab techs have been experimenting with monkeys and other mammals to stimulate artificial responses for decades. Sleep disorder experts and neuro-surgeons have been known to affect dreams and perceived consciousness. Even those under anesthesia often experience lucid hallucinations.

    Plus, who hasn't had such a vivid dream that they thought they were awake? With the right technology, a human mind could possibly believe anything is real. But creating genuine parallel realities from a computer program - we won't ever see it. Still, an interesting concept.

  • wait wuh | August 5, 2012 6:47 AMReply

    Okay I just remmembered that on the last scene of the movie, the silver cloud art gives off reflections. And if my memory is correct (i dnt have the movie) the reflection of Captian colter is of sean. In the source code "simulation", the reflection of captain colter is also sean (wen he looked in the mirror in the bathroom train.) So this means that Colter is in a "simulation". And this "simulation" as we all know could be more then a simulation but something that transcends parallel universe's. So in the end, wen goodwin pulled the plug, it did not matter because Captain colter was in a different parallel universe. Goodwin just cut off colter from the original universe. And the best part of this is that Captain Colters universe is his "heaven" (not literally heaven). That second universe was somewhere where people were happy and nothing went wrong. And that last text was also in the second universe. The text said something like "everything is going to be okay" which means that Colter knows he landed in a universe where it is like heaven. U get wat I mean??? I just went on a ramble so this might no make sense but this is how i see it.

  • Jackson | August 3, 2012 11:13 AMReply

    But you seem to have missed the part in the end where Steven and Christina arriving to the plaza to the huge medal ball, which was an image that was constantly flashed everytime he was shocked into his 8mins missions. That would suggest that he was seeing a vision of something that was nowhere in history. That vision appeared only after the "killing" happened and he went into his "afterlife", yet he saw flashes of it before all that happened. So it seems like the source code transcends both time and alternate worlds.

  • Captain_007 | July 23, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    No you guys didn't get it. The most interesting part is its ending.

    As you may know, there is no availability for a source code to figure out who is the suspect, the whole story looks like a trash. But the ending put this rational: it's the agent Goodwin's brain on an invisible lab desk.

    Because source code doesn't accept signal from external, the only reason for Goodwin to get Captain's message is she is actually in "source code" --- or say, her brain is on the desk. It's Goodwin rather than Captain in the experiment. That made the whole story rational.

  • boom1987 | July 31, 2012 7:20 PM

    huh? so it was Goodwin who is in the "source code" and not the Captain? In order for the source code to work, your body has to be something like what the Captain is. Hers was not.

  • Justin Huntingdon | July 22, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    I think the ending was tacked on to provide a happy ending. Have you seen 'The Player'? I think the original screenplay finished with the frozen shot of the train's passengers laughing at the comedian...

  • Sam Dudek | January 22, 2013 8:35 PM

    I agree. I'm guessing test audiences didn't like an ending where everyone dies so they tacked on the "happy" ending.
    I think ending with the freeze-frame kiss is a PERFECT ending, and an ending the movie was building towards. Think about it, from his cell, the only thing he wants to do is call his dad. In this ending he does. As Sean, he continually asks "If you only had one minute to live, what would you do?" He dies doing what he wanted -- kissing the girl. And finally, is a weird sci-fi way, he gives the people a change to die happy; with a smile on their faces. I wish the movie would have faded to black during that frozen frame. That would have been my perfect ending.

  • SIMON | July 20, 2012 8:13 PMReply

    firstly, can i make it clear that i love this film, i think though that i would have loved it even more, if it had been 10 minutes shorter, if the film had actually ended with the freeze frame of the kiss, but maybe a freeze frame of sean kissing christina, not colter. i think that ending would allow people to create their own questions and answers to what happens next, and not have the questions fed to us by what happens next.
    i like the idea of alternative and paralell universes, that when a decision is made, reality forks into different directions and each are played out. I think i would like the ending more if we actually see the actor playing sean, in the last few minutes and not jake gyllenhall. during the last 8 minutes when colter has hijacked seans body he has created a reality in which sean and christina have got together. i think it would make more sense (to me) because the love story from christinas point of view was with sean. although it would then pose the question of how would sean account for the last 8 minutes that he had missed?? and i personally would find it easier to accept that death means death to colter, no matter what reality it is in. and the message to goodwin, unnecessarily confusing. just my opinion for what its worth! simon.

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