Source Code, the techno/SciFi thriller directed by Duncan Jones in 2011 (and on Movie Central right now, which is why you’re reading this), is a vigorous little thriller that makes the viewer think. How many alternate realities are out there anyway?
Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhall)wakes up in a commuter train sitting across from a beautiful woman named Christina. He realizes several things - he’s somehow in the body of Sean Fentress, a schoolteacher; he supposed to be Afghanistan and he’s not sure how he got here; there’s a bomb on the train and in eight minutes it kills him and everybody on the train.
He wakes up in a strange capsule. Staring down upon him is a flatscreen with Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin on it, telling him to focus and return to his mission. She’s looking down at him from a command centre, surrounded by eggheads. She’s his contact. Those eight minutes are going to start again, and he has to find that bomb and whoever planted it, because the explosion has already happened and Homeland Security needs to find out where in central Chicago the madman will plant his next and far larger bomb. Colter Stevens will have to relive those eight minutes as many times as necessary until he finds the bomber and the bomb.
Finally, after several unsucessful eight-minute runs, in which he chases a train-sick Indian Businessman, gets tazed by Amtrak security, and kisses Christina, only to die in the blasts, the government scientists tell him the truth. Colter was the victim of an insurgent attack, and only barely survived. The US government declared him dead, and harvested part of his brain so they could merge it with the memories found in the dead brains of terrorist attack victims. But the memories are only of the last eight minnutes of the victims life. Colter’s imprisonment in the capsule, the memories of Sean Fentriss, who died on the train, are all illusory.
But here’s the kicker - Sean Fentriss’s memories are of an entirely whole world that includes details Fentriss couldn’t possibly know, such as the location of the bomb, the results of internet searches, and the reactions of each passenger to varying actions. That’s because the scientists have used quantum mechanics to put his consciousness into Fentriss’s source code (his memories), and now Colter is not just in Fentriss’s memories, but of another reality. Each action alters history and puts Colter on a different course. Every stream of time results in a different world, decoherent from the next, but all those streams are from the same quantum superposition. This is all thanks to Hugh Everett, a physicist who formulated the Many-Worlds Theory as an answer to the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox. Colter Stevens is in his own world, as much as the scientists want to think he’s simply a ghost being tossed again and again into the same point of the data stream.
This poses many questions.
Jake Gyllenhall has been plagued by gay rumours. They’re muted, because everyone likes him and he’s not part of a creepy California ‘church,' but they’re there and constant. Could he have once been straight, and was then converted by the energy generated by the wishful thinking of a thousand horny gay gossip bloggers? Did someone in an alternated timestream stop Mohammed Atta while he was applying for crop-spray funding, thus preventing 9-11, and is now living in a wonderful world of cheap gas, cheap houses, and reading the fine books of a talented but slightly pompous Chicago author and senator named Barack Obama, and dozing away during John Kerry’s Oval Office speeches? In another timestream did Bill Gates and Steve Jobs team up and take over the entire planet with lovely, streamline computers that ran like our Apples, looked as damn sexy as our Apples, but were as flexible and cooperative as Windows PC’s? Or is there another reality in which the terrorist really won, and we’re all wandering blindly around a cloud of radioactive dust, looking for a few rats to shishkabob?
Never question whether or not things could be different, that’s what I learned from this film. Ask whether things could be better or worse.