Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

*** Contains spoilers ***
Goodwin: "This tactical advantage, this tremendous tool that we've given you - don't squander it thinking!"
Theorizing that one can time travel within his own lifetime, US Air Force pilot Captain Colter Stevens steps into the Source Code accelerator... and vanishes. He awakes to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that are not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Goodwin, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a videogram that only Colter can see and hear. And so Captain Stevens finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home...

If this all sounds to you like a bit like Quantum Leap, then you're right. All this film's really missing is a scene in which Scott Bakula has a father-son phone conversation in which one party's days are gallingly numbered. Oh, wait, that's in here too. Yes, Bakula plays the lead's dad, just like in the aforementioned TV series. Oh boy...

(da-da dun dun dun dun dun dun dunn, da-da dun dun dun dun dun dun dunn...)

All of this tribute movie's love for a show that I enjoyed pretty well every episode of really ought to make me tremendously well-disposed to it, but, sad to say, I'm afraid that's just not the feeling I came away with.

For the other thing that this film has taken from Quantum Leap is a great premise, realised rather carelessly. In QL they overcame any shortcomings with consistently friendly characterisation, but for my money Source Code just doesn't seem to be making the effort there either.

The story is built upon an exciting idea - that when a person dies, their brain retains an 'afterglow' of the final eight minutes of their life, give or take. So our man, complete with his swiss-cheesed memory, has been plugged into the afterglow of a bomb victim from earlier that day. Colter chronologically relives everything of which the dead guy - Sean - was aware in those final few moments, and dreamily interacts with it all, looking for some clue to the bomber's identity to report back to his bosses in the near future. Over and over again. Yes, most of this film repeatedly takes place within those same pivotal eight minutes.

Since the man died on a train that was blown up, this predominantly means that Colter dreams of the individuals surrounding him (Sean) in the same carriage. However when our hero gets up and goes to visit the next carriage, well, he obviously can't know anything about whoever's along there, because Sean never saw them, so they cannot be retained in Sean's afterglow. In fact, Colter won't be able to get any information out of anyone or anything that Sean wasn't aware of. Similarly, gleaning information from the internet would also be right out for the same reason.

That every different version of those final eight minutes features anomalies that are not the result of the protagonist's divergent choices (eg. the girl opposite him on the train starts off sitting in a slightly different position each time) makes it appear that these surroundings are all subjective to Colter, and not fixed. Despite these limitations, Colter succeeds at every one of the impossible tasks that I listed in the above paragraph.

As a viewer, I found this quite aggravating. What is the point in exploring an idea without thinking it through?

Yet then in the film's final few moments, a solution is offered for why this fellow has access to so much information that the original guy who died didn't. It turns out that the project's chief scientist, despite having merely plugged our guy into a dead brain's afterglow, has unwittingly sent him both actually back in time, and into a parallel universe.

I know, what are the chances. I mean he's not working on or experimenting with time travel, or parallel worlds, and yet somehow he's managed to stumble upon the science for both... without ever even realising it.

Why the whole ill-fitting afterglow idea? Why didn't the script just tell us the project was deliberately based upon the whole time-travel / parallel world premise from the outset, and thus give us a story which we could engage with while watching it, instead of just in its final moments? Maybe it did, but I need to go back and relive this morning to pick up on it.

Still, at least there was an explanation, which is more than 1993's similarly themed (and similarly lazy) Groundhog Day offered us. A better trait that both films share is to highlight just how full of opportunity every moment of life is, no matter how mundane it might appear. When Colter pays the depressed stand-up comic to perform an impromptu set for the other passengers on the train, the message for this viewer was clear, uplifting and inspiring.

However I found such moments of warmth to be in a minority. Even the terrorist plot here fails to ring true, a literal case in point being the rigging of two phone detonators, y'know, just in case one gets found and deactivated, but not the other. (which I concede does come to pass here)

Another is the idea that first bomb was some sort of a message to the authorities that a bigger explosion was planned elsewhere for later in the day. I'm no expert on terrorism, but the bombs that I see going off on the news seem to exploit the element of surprise. Of course they do. Any advance tip off to the authorities can only aid in the later ones getting caught.

And the train's running ten minutes late, and bound for Chicago. I don't know, but a timer device that was intended to go off ten minutes further down the line in the city would surely have caused much worse damage than using a real-time remote device between stops, even while passing a second train that the terrorist remotely detonating it couldn't see...

I'm sorry. Source Code seems like a well-intentioned love-letter to that 1990s TV series that I mentioned at the start, but more than anything else I felt the whole thing just lacked objectivity.

I did think they'd realised the scenes in the present a lot better than in QL, simply because they looked so mundane.

I guess I'd better not ask what became of the new universe's version of Sean though. Colter's new girlfriend sure isn't going to like asking what's become of her old friend either. I assume that her Sean's just finished the film by dying in our hero's dismembered corpse.

Is that an unkind metaphor for what just became of Quantum Leap?

I'd like to know whether the original Sean that morning was himself leapt into by a parallel Colter, and whether or not he had messaged Goodwin.

Maybe I'll find the answers to my questions if I rewind the tape and do rewatch the film over and over again...

(available to be watched repeatedly here)


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