Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

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

By Christopher Campbell | Spout April 1, 2011 at 5:02AM

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.
397

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.


Follow Spout on Twitter (@Spout) and be a fan on Facebook
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic)






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

Most Read



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More