Breaking the End of “Source Code”

Breaking the End of “Source Code” (photo)

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I really enjoyed Duncan Jones’ “Source Code,” from the clever sci-fi premise to the charmingly grumpy lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, to the various twists and turns of the narrative. My one major complaint with the film was the ending, not for what it said, but for what it didn’t say. Here was what I wrote in my original review last month:

“The film’s ending is particularly unusual for a modern science-fiction film thanks to its emphasis on its hero’s personal growth rather than big explode-y action sequences. Still, as refreshingly atypical as that ending is, it also has a darker angle that the movie kind of ignores and which suggests Stevens’ behavior isn’t quite as heroic as it’s made out to be.”

Obviously I was being as vague as possible at the time for fear of spoiling any of the details. Now I think it’s safe — after one more SPOILER WARNING! — to delve deeper.

The darker angle I was referring to happens after Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens has accomplished his mission inside the source code: he’s repeatedly travelled into the body of a man named Sean Fentress eight minutes before he’s killed in a bomb explosion aboard a Chicago commuter train. Through an arduous process of trial and error, Stevens discovers the identity of the bomber and relays the information to his handlers. Together, they capture the bomber and prevent a second attack from occurring. Though Stevens feels normal (or as normal as a man sent bouncing through time can feel), he slowly realizes that he’s essentially a vegetable being kept alive only so his mind can interface with this source code technology.

His assignment over, Stevens convinces his handler, played by Vera Farmiga, to send his consciousness back into the source code one last time and then let his physical body die. Though Stevens has bene repeatedly told he can’t alter the fate of the train’s passengers, this time he does: he stops the first bombing, and saves the lives of everyone on board. When his eight minutes are up, he doesn’t return to his lifeless corpse, or to some metaphysical limbo: he keeps living inside Sean Fentress’ body, right alongside all the other survivors of the now failed bombing attempt. And that’s where the darkness creeps in.

If Stevens is inside Fentress’ body, what happened to Fentress’ consciousness? The only assumption we can draw is that it’s gone and that the real Sean Fentress is dead, essentially at the hand of Colter Stevens. Even while he saves everyone else on board the train, Stevens has basically become a murderer. Which, when you think about, isn’t exactly a heroic thing to do.

All of those details are available in “Source Code” but the film doesn’t announce them very loudly. The epilogue scenes of Stevens and Michelle Monaghan’s character enjoying a walk through Chicago’s Millenium Park and Farmiga’s character reading an email sent by Stevens from inside the source code are hopeful and a bit suspenseful but they’re not laden with menacing metaphysical overtones. It seemed to me at that first screening that the film was raising some very provocative questions that it didn’t really want to address.

Given my interpretation, I was intrigued by Jones’ comments about the ending, which he gave at a Q&A after a screening of the film in Boston. His thoughts were recorded by /Filmcast host David Chen, who played them during this week’s review of the film. Here’s some of what Jones had to say:

“So Colter Stevens, at the end of the film, begs Goodwin to let him take one more shot at sorting out this disaster on the train, stopping the bomb from going off. So he gets sent, he gets on the train, in what he discovers to be a parallel reality, stops the bomb going off, which means Sean Fentress is now dead although he shouldn’t be… Colter has basically forfeited Sean Fentress’ life just so he, Colter Stevens, can have a happy ending. I like that, because immediately although we have a happy ending, it’s ethically a little bit more ambiguous.

I never doubted a filmmaker as smart as Jones knew these sinister undertones were present in his film, I’m just surprised he wanted them there. I initially read “Source Code”‘s epilogue as studio mandated; that the quote-unquote “natural” place to end — Stevens goes into the source code one last time, saves everyone on the train in a hollow gesture, then dies after one moment of happiness — was deemed not commercial enough, necessitating this supposedly happier addition which actually contained all sorts of unintended horror. In fact, the opposite was true: the studio preferred what I would call the “hollow gesture” ending, and it was Jones who fought for the addendum, specifically because of what I read as unintended horror.

So what’s more important: the director’s intent or the evidence on the screen? Jones wants those questions about Stevens’ actions to be present, but are they present enough? I’m not saying we need a shot of Stevens looking at Cloud Gate and crying “Oh no! What have I done?” But a little bit of a clue, in the editing or the music, could have made a big difference to the way we feel after the film is over.

What this comes down to is a question of what we, as the audience, want from our movies. How often do we complain about being spoon fed messages in films? A lot. Listening to Jones, and thinking some more about the end of “Source Code,” I stumbled across another possible rationale for that ending. Here’s an example of a movie that buried its messages so deep, they feel like they’re there accidentally. By discovering them, it’s as if we’re seeing something we’re not supposed to. Which, in essence, is what Stevens is doing during the final scenes of the film. Farmiga and particularly Jeffrey Wright’s character don’t want him to consider the ethical ramifications of his actions inside the source code. By embedding these disturbing implications in the finale, Jones is rewarding us for learning to behave like his protagonist; to refuse the superficial truth that’s presented to us, and find the deeper reality hidden underneath.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.