The Source Code Eschatology (part 1)

Posted: September 27, 2011 by Emilio Garofalo Neto in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

By Matheus Santos

Is it all right if I use command-phrases like “watch-it-immediately,” or “go-grab-it-now,” right in the first paragraph of this article? Well, since there is no better way to describe my euphoria towards Source Code, let’s say, “why not?” So if you mind not having me spoiling your whole fun, go rent it now and watch it immediately! (If you really don’t care, please, just keep reading; let me be one who will ruin your surprise). Maybe next time I should call the Reel Thinking editor in advance and ask him for more space, because when I put my eyes on the first minutes of this movie, I was certain that finding obvious allusions to Christianity would be just a matter of time and patience. And I wasn’t wrong.

Here is the trailer

Perhaps the best short description of Source Code is the combination of Groundhog Day, and Speed, and Deja Vu, in a bundle! In this movie, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the Captain Colter Stevens, who finds himself waking up on a train one morning, not knowing where he is. He is sitting across from a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who is acting and talking to him as if she knows him, but he doesn’t know who she is. His disorientation is evident; he doesn’t know how and when he got there. At the time when he’s trying to explain it to this unknown woman, he looks at the reflection of his face on the window and has the impression that it’s not his face, so he goes into the bathroom to confirm it, and he realizes that he is somebody else. From that point, a mysterious journey of self-identification and discovery starts for Captain Stevens, but a few minutes later a bomb explodes in the train where they are in, and the scene jumps to a dark room where he wakes up attached to his seat. There a woman (Vera Farmiga, who plays Colleen Goodwin) is talking to him on a small screen while he dizzily comes back to reality.

“Who am I talking to?” he says, “I don’t understand.”

“Captain, report what you saw,” the woman’s voice replies, “Where were you before you were talking to me?

“There was an explosion.”

“Coming from where?”

He sighs, exhausted. “I don’t know,” he thinks.

“Some confusion is perfectly normal at this stage, Captain.” – This is true of him and of the movie viewer!

To make it short (kinda), Captain Stevens (who is not alive, but had part of his brain preserved in a way that allows other people to communicate with him through a video portal) finds himself to be a pawn in a government program where an ambitious scientist named Dr. Rutledge (played by Jeffrey Wright) has figured out “how to repeat a certain section of time in a time continuum and to put somebody’s energy into that period of time,” as the director Duncan Jones explains it. The central idea of the plot is well summarized by one of Dr. Rutledge’s explaining statements when he says, “Source code is not time travel. Rather, it is time reassignment.” In this experimental program, Captain Stevens is sent “ back” several times into a period of 8 minutes recovered from the last minutes of the life of another person, whose personhood Stevens “borrows” temporarily, a school teacher called Sean Fentress, who also was killed in the train with the rest of the passengers. His mission consists of finding enough information about the explosion in order to prevent an imminent second attack, but it also became Steven’s personal search for the truth of who he is and the truth of what’s happened. Meanwhile, every time he comes back from the source code, Dr. Rutledge insists that Captain Stevens cannot deviate from the mission while inside the source code, even to investigate what happened to his own past. “There’s only one continuum on this end and it can’t be unsettled,” Dr. Rutledge points out, and although the scientist and Goodwin are telling him not to worry about what happens there; because that reality which was created in a quantum way will continue to go on even when Colter leaves it, not as a parallel reality, but as a temporal and “real” reality, in the real world. Over and over again, in a period of 8 minutes, Stevens has to put together the pieces of the puzzle, trying to figure out who set the bomb up.

The end of the film is really an interesting idea (spoiler warning!), because Captains Stevens gets sent back to his final source reality on the train and stays there. The paradox consists of a final reality where, against all the odds, the future can actually be changed by Stevens’ heroic act of stopping the bomber, out of which a new, parallel reality is created, where there must exist another Rutledge and Goodwin who he has contacted by sending them an e-mail. Now, Captains Stevens lives as the schoolteacher Sean Fentress, who was able to save the people in the train and his new girlfriend Christina, but there is also a half-living, breathing Colter, which has not yet been sent on a source code mission. For me the central point of discussion is that Captain Stevens is the only character (and I guess that Goodwin has her reasonable doubts in face of the circumstances) that truly believes he has a one-time chance to stop the bomber and  actually change the present time where they are in, but which is the future of the 8-minute train travel. I know, it is confusing.

For any Christian, the connection between Captain Stevens’s and Jesus Christ’s salvific actions could not be more obvious. Undoubtedly, Captain Colter Stevens is a type of savior just as Jesus Christ is (typological representation), but this is a conclusion of comparison and contrast fairly too-shallow-to-swallow to be accepted in a movie where the debate about the coexistence of metaphysical and quantum realities permeates the whole plot. I think, rather, that this movie offers a fine feast of elements for discussing the eschatological realities of the redemptive work of Jesus that should be explored vigorously, especially when it comes down to exploring if it is possible for a powerful and special event (in our case death and resurrection of Christ), set chronologically in a certain space of time, to radically change the course of past and future History for some people, as the movie affirms it is somehow possible. Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion, things are about to go in a loop!

[part 2]

  1. […] Yesterday we began to discuss this remarkable movie. […]

  2. […] ground for discussion as many other sci-fi classics do? Minority Report, Inception, Blade Runner, Source Code, Adjustment Bureau: all of them use cool sci-fi plot devices to discuss deep things. Check the […]

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