In the Loop: Source Code

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Source Code (2011, directed by Duncan Jones)

  • Time until the loop begins: 11 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: A computer simulation to stop a terrorist attack
  • Number of time loops: 7 (but I may have missed one)
  • Lessons learned: There is always the future

In the Loop logoLet’s be clear: Very little of Source Code holds up to any scrutiny and I tend to be charitable with how I rate time loop movies. The way the Source Code project works is fairly nonsensical (so they can recreate a computer simulation of a train but they still need to send someone’s consciousness into the program to investigate?) and the major plot reveals are so clear early on that they almost feel like a disappointment when they come true.

But none of that is to say Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley, is a bad movie. It’s plenty of fun once I accepted it’s just going to have flaws and at a pleasantly speedy 90ish minutes, it got its job done quickly. It has all the right elements as long as I didn’t think too hard about any of them.

Jake Gyllenhaal is U.S. Army Captain Colter Stevens who has his consciousness sent into (the computer-simulated) body of Sean Fentress on a Chicago commuter train. This train exploded in a terrorist attack earlier that day and now a secretive government agency is trying to prevent another attack. And I already had questions. So they can recreate an entire simulation of the train and all the passengers’ memories for the 8 minutes before the train explodes, but they still have to send someone’s consciousness into the simulation to actually track down the suspect and the bomb?

OK, I just had to let that go.

The mystery plays out pretty effectively and it’s great the loops are limited to 8 minutes. Gyllenhaal has a good everyman quality here — never too smart or too strong, but also inquisitive and ready to learn as he goes along.

Colter keeps going on and on about how his last memory was his helicopter crashing in Afghanistan and I really feel like the movie sits on “Colter is dead!” for too long (well, fine, he’s not technically dead, just most of him other than his brain). The movie treats this like it is supposed to be a huge shock but I’ve seen a movie before. I saw this coming.

Likewise, I wasn’t sold on the identity of the actual bomber, who I feel like had “no, no, it can’t possibly be him” arrows pointing at him from basically the first loop (like I said, I’ve seen a movie before) and his motivations seemed way too light for what he was planning. But I get that’s not really the point of this movie!

Throughout the loops, Colter-as-Sean bonds with Sean’s friend Christina (Michelle Monaghan). It’s not necessarily Monaghan’s fault, but Christina is mostly just treated like a prop throughout. She doesn’t really have any personality of her own and I was never particularly sold on the relationship between her and Colter. Who she thinks is Sean. And that’s an entirely different issue that I’ll get to.

Vera Farmiga’s Captain Colleen Goodwin, the main person from the shadowy military operation running the program, is likewise barely a character. Farmiga sells her obvious affection and protective instinct for Colter well, but she’s only sitting behind a desk most of the time before she needs to be put in place so she can let Colter die. We find out that she’s divorced and that’s about the extent of her character development.

I think this movie could have ended after Colter identifies the bomber and Chicago is saved! but no, his last request is to go through the loop one last time so he can save everyone. There is quite a bit of “I am now a good person” about this and it feels all sappy. Colter does everything perfectly — he disarms the bomb, makes up with all the passengers he was mean to previously, calls his father (but talks to him as Sean) and basically makes peace with his life. That would be fine. But then he sends an email to Goodwin before spending the rest of the day with Christina.

Ooooh, and you know where this is going. Goodwin arrives at her office the morning of the terrorist attack and reads the message from Colter. She sees the news — a terrorist attack on a commuter train was stopped! Colter, inside the simulation, somehow rewrote reality.

It’s another one of those “OK, I’ll just go with it.” But the implication is that Colter’s consciousness (while the rest of his body will die) is now in Sean’s body, where I guess it will stay forever? And Christina will never know anything else? Yeah, I don’t love the implications of that one. But like many things about Source Code, I’ll just let it go and enjoy the good parts of it.

Next week on July 27: Christmas in July special!

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.