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Breaking the End of “Source Code”

Breaking the End of “Source Code” (photo)

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THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE END OF “SOURCE CODE.” READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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