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Dr. Rutledge: You cannot alter this reality while inside the Source Code.
Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is a decorated
airman helicopter pilot who wakes up in the body of an unknown man inside a train in Chicago, where he meets a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan). But before he can understand what's going on, a bomb explodes on the train.
Waking up once again, this time in a capsule in an unknown location, Colter is greeted by a military woman named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who informs Colter that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over the body of another in the last eight minutes of that person's life. What he experienced on the train was merely a simulation. Earlier that day, a bomb already detonated and destroyed a train in Chicago, killing everyone aboard, including Christina, whom he has developed feelings for, and the original owner of Colter’s assumed identity within the Source Code, a man named Sean Fentress. Colter's mission is to use the simulation to retroactively discover the location of the bomb on the train and trace it to the bomber so that a second detonation can be prevented.
Not to be confused with an uncompiled computer program.
- Actor Allusion: Jake Gyllenhaal at one point says "Everything's going to be all right." It isn't.
- Adam Westing: Comedian Rusell Peters basically plays an expy of himself.
- All Just a Dream: Or rather, a virtual simulation. Or Was It a Dream?
- All the Myriad Ways: Inadvertently played straight by Rutledge. Avoided by the ending.
- Almost-Dead Guy: Colter.
- Alternate Timeline
- Always Save the Girl: Colter really wants to, but there's the small matter of Christina already being dead.
- Arc Words: "Everything will be all right."
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When we see Colter's real body in the life support chamber. Other than missing the lower part of his body, he seems remarkably unscathed for having been through a nearly fatal helicopter crash.
- Becoming the Mask: A rather heartwarming variation.
- Bittersweet Ending: It leans more on the happy side. Colter's original life is over and he will never see his father again. However, he will live on as Sean with Christina with a much happier lease on life. A large plot point of the film is his amends with the former.
- While literally everyone else survives the original Sean is dead even in the happy universe ending.
- Brand X: The train company is called Chicago Commuter Rail, or CCR, instead of Metra. Still Metra's blue and red engines, though.
- Cannot Spit It Out: The Source Code officials might get Colter's cooperation much sooner if they just spilt the beans about his circumstances from the get go, instead of dodging his most basic questions.
- Casting Gag / Actor Allusion: Colter's dad should know what he's going through in the film; he's done it too.
- Russell Peters basically plays a fictionalized version of himself, particularly noticeable during his lewd stand-up routine in the ending.
- Chekhov's Gun: The older woman's bag on the upper level.
- One of the passengers drops his wallet, which is returned to him by another passenger. The first passenger is Derek Frost, the bomber, and he's deliberately leaving his wallet at the site to be assumed one of the casualties of the bomber.
- Dead All Along: Colter was "not quite" dead from the very beginning. Everyone he sees on his first trip in the Source Code soon turns out to have died already.
- Death Is Cheap: Averted. Colter doesn't actually die at the end of every run through, but he experiences the horror of it every time, and the more he does it, the more he comes to see just how precious and fleeting life is.
- The Dog Was the Mastermind: After major suspicion is cast on every person in Colter's immediate area (including Colter himself!), the Bomber eventually turns out to be a random background character who had literally 2 seconds of screen time before The Reveal.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Hell Yeah.
- Flash Back: The Source Code program effectively serves as an interactive one. There's also a few of Colter's death.
- Flash Forward: Colter's "in transit" glimpses of Christina and the Bean.
- Flash Sideways: Colter has a glimpses of his future self in another timeline before he even gets there.
- Genius Cripple possibly Evil Cripple
- Groundhog Day Loop
- Half the Man He Used To Be: Colter, and it's not a pretty sight.
- The Hero Dies: Inverted.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Colter's father is played by none other than Scott Bakula. As the film was tagged by its creators as Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, this is probably not coincidental.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Colter is actually mostly brain-dead and missing limbs and his lower torso, with his physical self an illusion. His life is at the mercy of the scientists running the Source Code.
- Just Train Wrong
- Trains do not have guns on board, as quoted by Metra's own commuter newsletter On the Bi Level, If conductors wanted to wield guns they would have applied for a different kind of blue uniform..
- The so called 'conductor's compartment' is actually an engineer cab for remotely controlling the locomotive when the train is moving in that direction, and is portrayed on the wrong end of the train car (the engineer must be able to see the track ahead). Even more so from the outside view of the cars since it shows the windshields for the cab on the right end of the car, but the side windows of the cab on the wrong end as well. Not to mention this was a Chicago bound train, so the compartment would not have been empty, there would have been an engineer on one side of the compartment, operating the train.
- Actually METRA owns a rather large proportion of cab control cars and frequently uses them mid-train as coaches. In exterior views of the train he is in fact riding in a mid-train cab car. It is also entirely logical that such closed cabs would be used as storage space for the train crew and may be referred to as a conductor's compartment.
- Not all cars on the train have headlights/taillights/red stripes.
- Gallery cars of the type depicted do not have a bridge over the isle, they have stairs on either side of the isle to reach their respective sides of the mezzanine.
- Man in the Machine
- Meaningful Echo: A few, but most notably, "What would you do if you knew you had less than a minute to live?"
- Meaningful Name: Ruthless Rutledge is ruthless.
- Mind Screw: And then some.
- Mind Wipe: Colter's intended fate.
- The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Colter is Sean. Probably a visual form of Translation Convention since Colter is not looking at himself all the time, he percieves himself (And we see him) as Colter. Is only when he looks in the mirror that he (And thus the audience) realizes what he actually looks like.
- Mission Control: Goodwin, and Rutledge to a lesser extent.
- Mistaken for Evidence: Done frequently with a combination of characters (the shifty guy who just has motion sickness, the overly defensive software designer only calling his wife) and with objects (the first phone on the bomb, pretty much every piece of technology in the first half).
- Mistaken for Terrorist: When Colter first suspects the Middle-Eastern man who turns out to have motion sickness, Christina calls him out on it. (As usual for this trope, there is at least a small bit of evidence.)
- Perma Stubble: Colter out stubbles Sean, his own reflection.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: The program is powered by a forsaken mortally wounded veteran heading for routine Mind Wipe without being allowed to die.
- Precision F-Strike: And how.
- Product Placement: Apparently they have Dunkin' Donuts shops on trains now. Also, Colter has time to stare at the Bing homepage for what seems like an eternity before searching for anything.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Nobody seems to care that Colter has effectively murdered the real Sean and stolen his identity, because at least Colter gets his happy ending!
- Not really. There never was a "real Sean" in the Alternate Universe, he was always Colter.
- And even if there was a "real Sean", he only had eight minutes to live until Colter came along, so it's not like he's missing out on that much.
- To expand: if Colter doesn't "kill" Sean, the whole trainload of people, Sean included, all die. If he does, he sacrifices Sean to save everyone else. Seems pretty much a no-brainer. And at that point, as he cannot give Sean back his life, he might as well live it.
- It could be worse with Sean trapped in some sort of Being John Malkovich state.
- Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered in the first person no less.
Colter: Hey, my name's Derek Frost. I planted a nuclear device in the white van parked in a Glenbrooke Station CCR parking lot. Right now, I'm handcuffed to a pole in the 944 CCR train headed to Chicago Union Station. I'm a sick and pathetic human being and I need to be locked away for a very long time.
- Science Is Bad: Played with. While the program can't undo past events, it can be used to influence future ones and prevent subsequent attacks and save millions of lives. However, there is the matter of Source Code's creator, Dr. Rutledge, wanting to go back on his promise to let Colter die so the Source Code Program can continue, for not wholly altruistic reasons.
- Then again, it actually can rewrite reality to fix the past after all. Just not our past
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Doubly subverted. Colter can't change the past - everyone is already dead, and his sole purpose is preventing future attacks. But in one timeline, he succeeds, creating an alternate future where the train does not explode.
- Shallow Love Interest: Christina. We never even find out what she works with or how she knows Sean.
- Shout-Out: Colter's father is played by Scott Bakula.
- The radio DJ's spiel about the weather near the end, besides the numbers being different (it's a bit nippier out, apparently) is the same as that near the beginning of Ferris Buellers Day Off, which also takes place in Chicago.
- Christina's ringtone is "I am the one and only", the same as Sam Bell's alarm clock in Moon.
- The revelation of Colter Stevens' real body is a lot like Hunter's fate from All Hail Megatron. That is, missing limbs and lower torso, plugged into a machine and comatose/braindead. They also served as a sort of Unusual User Interface for the people that plugged them into the machine, and both get a Mercy Kill at the end.
- Terrorists Without a Cause: The motivation for the bombing is not really important to the plot. The bomber apparently acted alone, and defied all the stereotypes, being neither Middle Eastern nor Asian nor a radical college kid, but a standard-issue middle class white guy. When Stevens does get a chance to ask "why", he gets some answer about rebuilding from the rubble, but no specifics or clear ideology. His line "This world is Hell" may suggest some sort of Apocalpyse-minded religious fundamentalism, but it's unclear.
- Time Bomb: Played with. The device is merely an explosive rigged to blow when it receives a signal, but Colter only has eight recurring minutes to discover where it is and who put it there, thanks to how the Source Code operates. He finds it pretty quickly; it takes most of the film to uncover the bomber's identity.
- Time Travel Romance
- Title Drop
- To Be Lawful or Good: Goodwin chooses the latter.
- Together in Death: In the original timeline, Christina died on the train and Colter died when Goodwin shut off his life support. In the alternate timeline, they live.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Colter begins the film having no idea why he's on a train with a woman who claims to know him under another name. Later, when he "wakes up" inside of the capsule, he doesn't recognize Capt. Goodwin or anybody involved with the Source Code Project. But then, he's never met any of them before, since he was assigned to the program after his presumed death.
- Not necessarily trauma induced. The scientists have the ability to wipe his memory and it's implied they've done so before.
- Trailers Always Lie: The trailers made it seem like some romantic dramedy through time and space movie like The Lake House...
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Colter, big time. Rutledge is not above exploiting this to trigger his Heroic Resolve.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Rutledge. He's genuinely devoted to saving the lives of countless Americans by preventing terror attacks. That the process involves the exploitation of mortally wounded veterans is an acceptable price to him.
- It also seems that Dr Rutledge, who doesn't interact with Colter, doesn't fully realise that he can still think and have feelings - after all, he is partly brain-dead. If Colter didn't have emotions, then mind-wiping Colter so he'll be ready for his next mission would be morre like clearing the cache on a browser. However, it's obvious to Goodwin that Colter does indeed have feelings and desires.
- During the last alternate timeline, when told the news of the averted terrorist attack, Dr. Rutledge seemed disappointed he didn't get an opportunity to use the Source Code; even though that meant hundreds of people would have died.
- Derek Frost might also count. He seems to honestly believe people would be a lot happier After the End.
- Western Terrorists: After going through a number of suspects, including 2 Middle-Eastern/South-Asian passengers behaving strangely (as it turns out, one has motion sickness and not radiation sickness, and the other is just an asshole), the Bomber eventually turns out to be The Whitest Man Alive. Granted, he gives off much more of a "Berkeley"/Weather Underground vibe rather than being a stock Right-Wing Militia Fanatic.
- Wham! Line: Christina telling "Sean" that his friend Colter was killed in action - two months ago.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Sean after Colter hijacked his body in the new timeline? Also, what happens to original timeline Goodwin? For that matter, what about all those other timelines where they failed to find the bomber? Presumably each timeline where the train is destroyed has a good chance of catching the bomber, but it's never really settled.
- It's been confirmed by Word of God that the original Sean is dead and Colter now permanently resides in his body.
- What You Are in the Dark: Even after the Alternate Universe aspect of the Source Code is explained to him, Colter still tries to do good to strangers that he'll never be able to interact with ever again. To his delight, he's actually wrong and his consciousness enters the Alternate Universe in the final attempt.
- The Windy City
- X Meets Y: Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day.
- Also Quantum Leap meets Lola Rennt, which is essentially same as the above.
- Next meets Deja Vu meets Inception.
- Or Murder on the Orient Express if you prefer.
- One of the actors described it as Groundhog Day meets Speed.
- Might be a bit of a stretch but: Being John Malkovich meets 24 meets Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Being John Malkovich for the whole inhabiting Sean's body concept and the moral concepts therein, 24 for the obvious ticking time bomb, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica because of the use of time loops for the sake of protecting the one you love from dying and to change of the future for the better. Also both Dr. Rutledge, the designer of the Source Code program, and Kyuubey share the same moral approach about their jobs: both want to save the world, Rutledge by creating a weapon against terrorists and Kyuubey by preventing the effects of entropy in the universe, but have underhanded methods of doing so, using people as tools and caring little for those people other than their functions.
- Assassin's Creed meets Daybreak.
- Groundhog Day meets Johnny Got His Gun.
- You Already Changed the Past: Basically what Colter tells Goodwin at the end of the film.
- You Cannot Grasp the True Form: When outside of the Source Code, Colter perceives himself as being inside a fully enclosed capsule of some sort, similar to a cockpit, complete with a video screen to communicate with Beleaguered Castle, tools, and an emergency exit. It turns out that his mind is actually jacked into a computer system, and his body is horribly maimed.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Played with. No matter what he does, the passengers always die in the original timeline. However, in a rare happy ending version of this trope, he is able to save them in an alternate timeline, and he goes with Christina to the Cloud Gate sculpture, which he has been seeing in flashes in between time leaps, implying that he was always meant to in the first place.
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- Or, actually, an "afterimage" of the event