Source Code – A Retrospective

source code retrospective

This is my contribution to the Time Travel Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Wide Screen World. You should check out all the other posts aswell!


The film I am covering is the 2011 sci-fi thriller bottle-movie – Source Code, directed by the great Duncan Jones (who just released his new film ‘Mute’ on Netflix).

Admittedly, this is kind of cheating.

Source Code is not technically a time travel story, but it does work with the narrative-device of going back and forth across the 4th dimension of a narrative, so I figured it would fly.


Spoilers below!

source code jake
Spoilers? Oh no!

In Source Code, we follow Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens. During the course of the movie, we learn that he was recently involved in a helicopter-crash in Afghanistan, and that he is almost dead, with only his brain still functioning.

After the crash, he was transported to a military base in America, where he has been kept alive, and plugged into a device that lets you experience the last eight minutes of a person’s life.

Dr. Rutledge, the creator of this experimental government program, played by Jeffrey Wright, wants to use Captain Colter Stevens to avert a massive terrorist attack.

Only hours before the movie starts a train heading for Chicago was bombed, killing all aboard. The authorities have reason to belive that more attacks are incoming. We later learn that a man named Derek Frost, played by Michael Arden, is the bomber, and that he is planning to take out Chicago with a nuclear device.

By letting Colter experience the last eight minutes of the life of one of the victims on the train, they can investigate the scene of the atrocity, from a time before the explosion wiped away all evidence and eye-witness testimonies.

Colter is placed within the memories of a teacher named Sean Fentress, who is commuting with a colleague named Christina Warren, played by Michelle Monaghan. Sean and Michelle seem to have been crushing on each other, before they were crushed by the explosion.

Colter now has to try to figure out where the bomb is, who placed it there and where the next bomb will go off out in the real world. All while trying to investigate his own situation both in the simulation, and in between memory loops as he talks to his handler Colleen Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga.

Colter slowly learns new information, gets blown up, goes back to the start of the eight-minute loop, learn a bit more, gets blown up, and so on, and so on.

dr rutledge quote - source code
Yup, that is the guy from Westworld. He seems to get typecast as ‘Control-Room Science-Guy’.

Source Code follows the same formula of a character slowly learning the ins and outs of a time loop as in Groundhog Day, but it draws just as heavily from check-point systems in modern video games, where you restart from a given point upon failure, so that you can immediately try again.

In fact, the film has some important references to games.

The name of the Source Code project is Beleaguered Castle, a variation on the solitaire card game. Solitaire is a puzzle for one player to solve, just like the train-bombing is a puzzle for Colter Stevens to solve.

That aspect of the film is something that it shares with the Tom Cruise movie ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’, and since that film came out three years later, I would not be surprised if someone saw Source Code and went “I like this movie, but we could make it better if we added aliens!” To be fair, that is a pretty fun flick.

Source Code window
“I’m telling you, Tom Cruise stole my idea!”

Source Code is a great film, and if you have not seen it yet, you should.

It has romance, comedy, action, and even a bit of existential dread.

I may have spoiled some big points, but not so much as to ruin the experience.


At the start of this I admitted that this is not exactly a movie about time travel per se, but I think that I may want to recall that statement.

For what is memory, if not a form of time travel?


24 thoughts on “Source Code – A Retrospective

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  1. It sounds close enough to time-travel for me, even if the concept feels kinda convoluted. I remember when it came out, but I missed it.

    Didn’t know Duncan Jones had a series. Liked MOON a lot.

    1. The movie handles the concept in a less convoluted way than my writing did :p
      There are some confusing parts, but the movie has a slow-ish build-up, so it works.

      Yeah, ‘Moon’ is great! 😀
      If you like that, you will like Source Code.

      ‘Mute’ seems like an interesting film too, have not seen it yet.
      Netflix has started making a lot of original movies lately, some of it quite cool stuff.

  2. This sounds like a fascinating film. I’ve never even heard of it, but it does sound like the Tom Cruise movie did, uh, borrow elements of it, judging by your description.

    I laughed out loud when you wrote. “romance, comedy, action, and even a bit of existential dread”. All the elements of a fab movie!

    Thank you for joining the blogathon, and for the introduction to this wild, but thought-provoking, film.

    1. It was such an ignorant thing to say in this review that Edge of Tomorrow borrowed elements from Source Code. Ridiculous. Edge of Tomorrow relied pretty faithfully on All You Need Is Kill (2004) by Sakurazaka. That story followed a soldier “who, after dying in a battle with extraterrestrials, is caught in a time loop that makes him live the same day repeatedly”. It is that silly Source Code that may have borrowed some elements from the Japanese story. Moreover, it is more the case that Source Code nearly ripped off Deja-Vu (2006) – there a person DID have a puzzle to solve – a murder.

      1. Yes, I am sure that is the direct link.
        I just figured they may have been inspired by SC, seeing how three years is about the time it takes to knock out a Hollywood-film, maybe by drawing more on what inspired SC than from SC itself.

        But if you know for a fact that they did not get any inspiration from SC, then you are probably correct.

        1. That’s a nice connection to have made, but anyone who has ever read All You Need Is Kill (2004) would immediately realise that Edge of Tomorrow won’t even need SC as an inspiration. SC is absolutely irrelevant. All You Need Is Kill is the Edge of Tomorrow script.

          1. Yes, but they could have found AYNIK though SC, like how studios often go “That type of thing may work, what do we have the rights to with a premise like that?”

            Probably not, but ultimately, there is no way to know for sure for either of us what did or did not play a role in how the film got made.

            So no, I don’t think it was ignorant to say “I would not be surprised if someone saw Source Code”, mostly as a joke.
            I am not claiming fact here, just airing a possibility.

  3. So interested in the game connections! I liked this movie a lot–entertaining and thought provoking throughout. As usual with Gyllenhaal’s work, it’s underrated and underseen. Thanks for giving it this tribute! Leah

    1. Glad you liked it 😀

      The director is a fan of video games, and went on to direct the ‘World Of Warcraft’ movie.
      Heard that is not one of his better ones, that he works better with his own original ideas.

      I saw the ‘behind the scenes’ of Source Code before I wrote this, and Gyllenhaal seems like a really smart and nice guy.

  4. I watched the film expecting nothing and loved it even though this is not my usual genre (but I love Predestination too, for example, and Looper just a bit less). If you have any other recommendations in this vein (not too silly, not too cartoony, not too cliche, with a grain of salt), I’m all ears. (An example of a SF movie that I HATE: Serenity.)

    1. As mentioned is Moon (2009), by the same director as SC, great.
      Soylent Green (1973) is good, even if you know the twist.
      Judge Dredd (2012) is very fun, if a bit actiony.
      Having trouble thinking of any more at the moment, may blog about them later 😉

      The Serenity-hate is very interesting.
      I can understand it both from a “seen the show” and “didn’t see the show” perspective.
      I like it, but I can’t blame anyone who did not.

      1. Thank you. Moon is on my list yet, the other two not. Sly Stallone? 😮 Maybe… As for Serenity, I didn’t see a show, I didn’t even know there was a show. It was on some top ten SF films list so I pounced. I quite liked the beginning, it was promising, but then baaaaah. Nothing in it for me whatsoever.

        1. Serenity is a sort of retroactive finale episode of Firefly, which was a great show that was taken of air during its first season.
          So to start there would probably make it seem horrible.

          There is a great episode of ‘Movies With Mikey’ about that film on YouTube that touches on how knowing these characters from the show makes up a great deal of the quality of the film.
          Worth a look 🙂

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