Friday, November 18, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Source Code (with guest blogger Hardeep Aujla)

The following is a repost of a November 19, 2015 discussion of Source Code written by guest blogger Hardeep Aujla of Word Is Bond. Duncan Jones, the director of Source Code, most recently brought us the much-maligned movie version of Warcraft. Source Code spoilers ahead.

Source Code
By Hardeep Aujla

Despite its inevitability and necessity, humans are pretty good at moving the goal posts on death. We used to say someone was dead when the heart stopped beating, then we figured out how to restart it. Some said death occurred when we stopped breathing, and then the ventilator was invented. For Beleaguered Castle, the military science unit in Duncan Jones and Ben Ripley's Source Code, technology has allowed them to go one step further.

That is, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is all but brainwaves after his body perished in a helicopter crash over Kandahar, and he now sits on a hard drive ready to boot up as needs arise. Needs like a bomb blowing up morning train commuters: the first in a suspected wave of terrorist attacks on the city of Chicago. The wreckage has however left a lingering fallout of electronic brain activity from the victims, explained by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) as akin to the dimming glow of a lightbulb after being switched off. We're told this holds 8 minutes worth of information into the past from the point the explosion occurred. Upload Stevens' brainwaves into the cloud via the experimental Source Code technology and he gets to "replay" those 8 minutes occurring a millimetre away in the 4th spatial dimension, identify the bomber, and relay this back to Beleaguered Castle in the "real world" to prevent further attacks.

In Ebert's review of the film, he makes reference to an old Victorian-era detective's myth about the image of the killer being imprinted on the retina of the dead. I see Source Code as more EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), like the Native American spirits in Poltergeist. Similar to that film, and Tobe Hooper's other comment on bulldozing over the past and thinking it won't bite you in the ass, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Source Code does deal with overlooking the past, but does so on an immediate rather than a generational scale. In the wake of tragedy, Dr. Rutledge has developed the means with which to learn and develop with the Source Code technology, a sentiment that is echoed by the Radioactive Boy Scout-inspired villain: "We have a chance to start over in the rubble - but first there has to be rubble." But we're told the Source Code technology is not a simulation. If it were purely computational it could presumably be hacked for the answers. What Stevens instead experiences is an alternate reality that must be experienced via a synaptic soulmate, Sean Fentress (Frédérick De Grandpré). Think Quantum Leap; you inevitably will when the reveal is made. The filmmakers surely had it in mind, getting Scott Bakula in an uncredited role as the voice of Stevens' father on the other end of a phone, complete with an "Oh boy..."

The bulk of the film becomes a trial-and-error back-and-forth between 8 minute shifts in the alternate reality and his existence in the core reality (all without using the excuse "Well, I can't be in two places at once!"), which is interestingly conveyed as a strangely geometrical, claustrophobic cockpit that we're told is a manifestation of his to cope with the limbo he effectively inhabits. The bomber eventually gets caught and the Source Code technology is hailed a success. Rutledge now foresees Stevens as regular agent in anti-terrorism missions; he is technically immortal after-all, at least in principle, sure statistically he will eventually decease if the hard drive corrupts or someone accidentally drags his folder into the Recycle Bin. But Stevens declines, he's served his time. His only wish is to go back into the alternate reality once more to save the people on the train, despite the fact that they're all irreversibly dead in the core reality - a fact that is lost on Stevens who rightfully acknowledges that the alternative narratives of reality are more than a means to an end and are as valid as any other - and then for the plug to be pulled on him. This happens and then my problem with the film occurs: he still exists. He skips off Bogarting Fentress' life and woman. They start babbling nonsense: "Do you believe in fate?", "This feels like exactly where we're supposed to be..." Get outta here, Hollywood. A better ending would've been where he terminates in the alternate reality, and additionally we never actually see his physical corpse in the core reality - just because it's more for the imagination. Or where he accepts Rutledge's offer and becomes a Quantum Leaping agent who can never leap home. Maybe that's just me. I've always preferred the Sci-Fi stories where man doesn't get away entirely, if at all, from manipulating science, and a Newtonian right-hook which shows time doesn't give a fuck about you would've made a fitting ending for me. But it's still a great Sci-Fi film, and a Black List screenplay that I'm glad saw the light of day.

Hardeep Aujla frequently contemplates the contradictions of Interstellar's tesseract plotline over in Leicester, England.

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