When deciding what movie to take in this week, I was in the dark on Source Code until I read a brief synopsis of it online. It seemed interesting, certainly interesting enough to donate an hour and a half of my life to, so off I went to take it in. What became of that hour and a half i something that I’m still not completely in tune with — a veritable mish-mash of nonsense that hit some marks while badly, badly missing others.
The story revolves around Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhall), a helicopter pilot who has been reassigned to a new military program after being shot down in Afghanistan. The program places him in a past alternate reality for eight minute intervals, with the hope that he can identify the perpetrator of a terrorist attack and the military can stop that same attacker from committing further promised harm in the real world.
In terms of a recent comparable, in many ways it reminded me of Inception. It’s not exactly the same, definitely not as deep in terms of themes or actual execution, but fairly similar in using the ideas of alternate timelines and realities to propel a story. If you’re not paying attention there is potential for a lot of head scratching, and even if you are you might not love where things go.
If you’re not paying attention there is potential for a lot of head scratching, and even if you are you might not love where things go.
The film is nothing if it isn’t unique though, as it borrows all sorts of radical science on its way to explaining exactly how it’s possible to send Stevens back in time. I’m no scientist, and I’ll venture most people watching won’t be either, so the convoluted rambling of the guy spearheading the project (Jeffrey Wright) was adequate explanation for me. It did seem a little silly, though that could have come from Wright’s almost cartoonish delivery. It also wouldn’t have hurt to draw the explanation out a little longer, maybe revealing it in pieces instead of in one bewildering soliloquy.
However the big issue for me came in the final third of the film. And it was a big issue.
In what had to be the result of test audiences panning the original ending, the logical end of the story drags on for about 20 nonsensical minutes, and eventually concludes with an ending that makes even less sense than the previous stretch of film. I can’t say more without spoiling things, but think I Am Legend in terms of replacement ending debacles. It was the first thing I thought when the movie came to a close.
Research later revealed that Gyllenhall himself preferred an alternate ending that was shot and ready to go, but the best he’ll get now is possibly an extra on DVD and Blu-ray in a few months time. I have a pretty good idea what that ending will entail, and it may rectify the ugliness of the theatrical release.
It’s not fair to say that Source Code is awful. In fact for the first hour, maybe a little bit longer, it’s pretty good. Goofy science aside, the idea is unique enough that it keeps you curious and there are enough forks in the road along the way that you’re never totally sure how things will end. However nothing in cinema is worse than a hastily rewritten ending that undoes what a film spent its whole runtime driving towards, and the ending of Source Code is, unforgivably, a big steaming pile of exactly that.