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5 live Review: Source Code

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Mark Kermode | 13:39 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

5 live's resident movie critic Dr Mark Kermode reviews Source Code.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Really surprised you liked this one.

    The problem with this film is that none of the ideas bear thinking about too much before they collapse under their own ineptness.

    Even if there might be a couple of holes or possible holes in Inception it pretty much holds together (the whole idea of levels in dreams is a bit problematic but not any where near as problematic as the ideas in Source Code). Pretty much any problem I have with Inception I can come up with one or more theories about how I can resolve it, with Source Code it really isn't worth investing any time at all into trying to think about how it could make sense).

    From that point of view, I would say this film is actually worse than a brain dead Micheal Bay or McGee film because their films don't have the pretensions that this one does. There were a couple of good moments near the end but they were very poorly explained. I am aware of the "Many Worlds" theory of Quantum Physics (because that's the way reality probably is, folks [Yes, it is]),
    but the idea that you can send messages between these worlds via the internet is totally risible.

    "OK, What about the whole thing being a dream?". I think that's been done.

    I dont want to do any plot spoilers or get too deeply into the ideas (because they are mostly not worth it). One of the big problems I had with the beginning of this film is the way the exposition is done. If you are going to send someone on a mission, don't you think you would brief them first? We waste a hell of a lot of time with, "What the hell is going on here?", "Who's in charge?" etc.

    A movie like Groundhog Day works because it just says "here's the reality." You don't question it, you just understand what is going on and don't have to think about the "how?" or "why?" and the film explores the problems of the reality without having to explain it and it really is about something else anyway.

    The special effects in Source Code were pretty poor too. Nice touch in having Scott Bakula voice the father, though.

  • Comment number 2.

    Um, McG, not McGee. Well I haven't seen any of his films

  • Comment number 3.

    The plot makes me think of that line from the movie The Beach: "This is just the kind of pretentious bs that Americans always say to French girls so they can sleep with them."

  • Comment number 4.

    Mark, you didn't mention it in your review but did you find there were thematic similarities with Moon? Firstly both films focus on employment ethics and secondly both feature a clandestine dehumanisation of our subjects, countered by a surfacing of humanistic emotions which adds a beautiful core in each film. I saw Source Code as a companion piece to Moon which enhanced my enjoyment of the film, seems clear to me that Duncan Jones obviously cares very much about these aforementioned themes.

  • Comment number 5.

    @danguardface, I agree about common themes. In both films the protagonist interacts with some other kind of remote reality; through a computer voice in Moon and through a person on a TV screen in Source Code (although the question of what is real and what is not real is different in both). In both films the protagonist has to find out and then come to terms with who/what they are. In Moon obviously the action takes place in a remote location and the same in source code. Both films have themes where characters are heard but not seen ( emotional telephone conversations in both films and the computer voice and final code in Moon)

  • Comment number 6.


    "clandestine dehumanisation of our subjects"

    Thematically and emotionally spot on with Jones' debut slice of SF gold. This would make for a great double bill. Just loved the way Jones has once again played smart with his SF conceits, allowing himself and his audience 'time and space' to satisfyingly engage as much with the big ideas, as with the characters themselves. Again, much like 'Moon', 'Source Code' still managed to be intimate, even with it's larger scale action beats, all of which are deftly handled, never swamping any of the narrative's multi-level smarts.

    I actually left the cinema energised, with that broad smile of satisfaction you only get when you've been treated to some great entertainment that never dumbs down but asks you to keep up and pays you off like a... happy ending!

  • Comment number 7.

    @antimode I'm disappointed that I have to stick up for this film.
    Science Fiction is not interesting if it only deals with what is possible. THE HOSPITAL is a fictional movie about doctors, but I would not label it SciFi. The idea of inhabiting dreams is not original to INCEPTION (i.e. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Cell) so what makes the movie interesting is what it does with the ideas on a story level. Resonant SciFi is about the human condition and not about actual science. INCEPTION tackles the idea of storytelling and its toll on the teller, Duncan Jones's own MOON physically manifests a man's reflections on his past and present, and now SOURCE CODE deals with possibility, regret, and the importance of choice regardless of your possible inhabitance of a non-reality.
    No matter what you thought of this film, it will always be better than movies from Michael Bay or McG, because those films are just plain evil on the basis of their disgustingly high budgets and their concession to the dumbest aspects of humanity. On the contrary, I've never seen a movie more pretentious than those from Michael Bay who tries to give emotional weight to robots hitting each other by putting them in slow motion and stretches his idiotic "stories" to 2 hour lengths.

    SOURCE CODE, in contrast to Transformers and even Inception, is more fun, has better pacing, and is very well conceived. The look is crisper and brighter than both of those films; the cinematographer and production designer really understand framing, color and contrast. The tone and momentum of the story has us asking questions right from the outset and has exposition that is not only justified, but works in the context of the story and characters: Captain Stevens is not supposed to know what's happening to him and Goodwin is initially obtuse because she and her superior don't know if he would comply with his mission if he knew what was really going on.
    I really loved this movie and it's further evidence that Duncan Jones is not just David Bowie's son. He has real ideas and has the talent to construct stories around them in very cinematic and satisfying ways.

    *It doesn't matter how good cgi fx are, because, as AVATAR proved, they always look fake.

  • Comment number 8.


    antimode said "One of the big problems I had with the beginning of this film is the way the exposition is done. If you are going to send someone on a mission, don't you think you would brief them first? We waste a hell of a lot of time with, "What the hell is going on here?", "Who's in charge?" etc."

    I disagree as I felt the two people in charge wanted to keep things whitheld from him so he wouldn't become aware of his circumstances.
    A little bit like in a dream where you start to become aware you are dreaming everything starts to collapse. In dreams we tend to be doing something and as soon as things calm down we tend notice something is off, well I do anyway.
    We saw this in the film when he found out the pod he was in wasn't real and he just carried on looking for answers. I think it was always their (Jeffery Wright anyway) intention to wipe his memory as well at the end of the mission.
    Also If they told him one thing he would naturally ask for other things.

    Anyway I really liked the film and I'm quite suprised some people have found the ending confusing. I also worked out the bomber in the first source code trip :P


  • Comment number 9.

    There is an alternate universe where YOU, Mark, are the washed-up director of all 8 "Transformers of The Caribbean" 3D movies - and I am 5 Live's movie reviewer.

  • Comment number 10.

    Source Code: Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap.

  • Comment number 11.

    Interested in seeing this, but judging by the basic premise, I'm surprised no-one's mentioned Run Lola Run yet (which seems to be in the same sort of vein).

  • Comment number 12.

    Mr. Kermode, if you thought so highly of this movie for its "intelligent" sci/fi ideas and execution, what are your thoughts on 1993's "12:01" starring Jonathan Silverman, Helen Slater, Martin Landau, and a pre-Entourage Jeremy Piven?
    That movie was done much more intelligently and deftly on all filmmaking points as well as in the areas dealing with time loops.
    In fact, the producers of this movie threatened to sue Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin of Groundhog Day for stealing their idea. Groundhog Day was released in Feb. 1993, 12:01 was July 1993, but the short film incarnation (starring Kurtwood Smith of Robocop and That 70's Show fame) was made and broadcast in 1990. Furthermore, the original short story, 12:01 PM, was published in 1973.
    Kermode seems to be such a fan of intelligent science fiction, so I would like for him to talk about 12:01 and its various incarnations, as nobody seems to have seen these movies, and they deserve much-needed recognition.
    Source Code was mediocre by comparison, and offered nothing new to this fan of the time loop and/or multiverse genre fan.

  • Comment number 13.

    Eh, I repeated the word "fan" in that last sentence. Wish I could edit the post above, but oh well.
    Would still like Kermode to discuss 12:01.

    12:01 (1993) = 12:01 PM (short film & short story) > Source Code (2011)

  • Comment number 14.



    I don't have a problem with "impossible" or "highly improbable". I probably wouldn't go to the cinema at all if I did. Time travel in the way it is normally depicted is "impossible" or "highly improbable" and yet there have been perfectly fine SciFi films about that. Travelling faster than the speed of light is "impossible" rather than "highly improbable" and yet the Star Trek franchise has been very successful and I have been fine with that(generally). The premise of Groundhog Day and Back to the Future films are similarly implausible but those films were great fun although not strictly science fiction as I understand it.

    In Source Code we are given a very poor explanation of what Source Code is and how it works and the questions continue to build from there. The bit where Stevens sends a message through the internet back to Goodwin was as thigh-slappingly bad as when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum defeat the aliens by downloading a virus in Independence Day. But I think SC takes itself much more seriously than ID. Checking the back catalogue of Michael Bay I think I would take The Rock and Armageddon over Source code (seriously) because they lack the pretensions of Source Code. McG might be something else altogether; Terminator Salvation was frankly atrocious and gave me a headache but if you make a film supposedly about big ideas and the premise/basic concepts are frankly crap, no matter what else you wrap it in, you are just peddling trash like Bay and McG's worst.

    I found the concepts in Inception more interesting in the way in which they worked together whereas the ideas in Source Code did not fit together. There are no alternate interpretations for Source Code and everything is sweetly resolved in one reality ("even better than you could have imagined". Puh-lease!) and doesn't leave you wondering about much afterwards. I don't think people will be going to see Source Code multiple times in the same numbers in which they did for Inception. The basic premise for Inception is somewhat preposterous but the basic premise for Source Code does not make sense with the plot and is very sketchily explained.


    I accept partly what you say but I still don't think they would send him in with no intelligence at all especially as the whole thing is against the clock. It is convenient for Jones because he then does not have to explain anything to us. I think Jones wants us to experience the frustrations of the Stevens character but he goes on too long with this. I think Jones is lazy in not bothering to explain properly what Source Code is but I think it's also because he knows the idea is basically crap.

    As far as the ending to Source Code goes, I counted what I thought were three distinct endings, perhaps there were more. I liked the first ending best and felt it would have been a good place to leave it at the freeze frame. I would have skipped the schmaltzy ending completely.


  • Comment number 15.

    I was put off by the trailer for this when a man says "It just doesn't work that way"....

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm vaguely aware of the 'many worlds' concept via the documentary on Mark Everett's father, but I also kept thinking of the Red Dwarf episode with Ace Rimmer in it!

  • Comment number 17.

    Quantum leap anyone? I would add more but i doubt Dr K would have seen or maybe even heard of it because it was on the telly. Funnily enough i thought of red dwarf as well, just goes to show you can't keep a good idea down!!

  • Comment number 18.

    I haven't seen Source Code and I'm not planning on seeing it unless someone makes a good argument against my trailer based assumption that it is little more than a remake of Tony Scott's 2006 Deja Vu. I can't understand why Mark hasn't gone out of his way to reference both films and distinguish between the two - but then, as I have admitted, I haven't seen Source Code.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have been listening to your podcasts for years. Never seen you on live stream - Simon you look so thin!!! I thought you were plump...... Mark you look just the same!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Totally agree Mark, totally agree!

  • Comment number 21.


    The way I understood it was that the whole thing was based on the idea of multiverse, always branching out.

    There's no time travelling involved.

    When he sends the message from the train, it is send to the woman from that universe, there hasn't been any terrorist attack yet, the message doesn't go to another universe or back in time, the message is sent from a phone on the train to the person that it's at the military base at that time. It just happens that we see her getting the message at the end of the movie.

    I do understand that there are three universes at the end of the film. The first one, where the body of Jake is dead. A universe where Jake became the teacher and the universe where the train didn't explode because the terrorist was stopped.

    What source code allows you to do is to jump into a parallel universe.

    That's what I understood, or maybe I just wanted to like it regardless.


  • Comment number 22.

    "There's no time travelling involved."

    "What source code allows you to do is to jump into a parallel universe."

    If that were the case (and there is no time travel involved) you would always arrive in the parallel universe at a point that the train had reached in the universe that you came from i.e. the train would have blown up or not blown up but it could not repeat any part of the journey. Anything else is time travel.

    Dont waste your time, folks, it's not worth it.

  • Comment number 23.


    Ace Rimmer he`s a triple polaroid kind of guy!!

  • Comment number 24.

    I don't understand all the hate for this movie.
    I loved it! I haven't had so much fun watching a movie in a long time!!
    If Hollywood action-packed clever and emotionally charged is what you're looking or, listen to Mark and watch this one!!!

    My review ( if you're interested)

  • Comment number 25.

    Quantum Leap?


  • Comment number 26.

    i thought it was good, but not great.

    don't know if it's just me but apart from the bit where they disclose the actual "reality" of the lead character, which I found clever if not a bit wishy-washy, then I just found the plot a bit simple and obvious, the special effects were also a bit of an afterthought. I think it needed a couple of more months on the writer's table and in the studio.

    I think Jake Gyllenhaal is underrated though.

  • Comment number 27.

    Source Code was great! I think theres some hate around because of blatent sci fi snobbery, the only criticism I hear is that the plot is "stupid" because it doesnt make sense etc etc, and okay the ending is not amazing and perhaps it should have ended at the freeze frame but hey it was nothing terrible at all. It was a good film because it had actual human emotion in it which made it very engrossing, Gyllenhall helped this alot. Compare this to Inception where you don't care about Di Caprio's character one bit, its pretty cold emotionally. But Source Code does have a heart, and to even suggest that its worse than a Michael Bay film is just extroadinary, i would rather continually blow up on a train like Gyllenhall's characters than watch that Bay or McG crap. Also I don't think its poorly explained, its trying to get us to think too, i mean people complain about been spoon fed everything and then complain stuff isn't explained to them properly, films can't win. And also he didnt send the email across worlds, he sent it to the vera farmiga in the same world. And also even if you don't like the plot, you can't blame duncan jones for it cos he didnt write it. the end. Grrr, chill out people :)

  • Comment number 28.

    Did no-one else think 'Source Code' was just a Hollywood version of 'Le Jetee'?

    I am suprised that Le Jetee has not been mentioned and that Source Code hadn't come along earlier; but Le Jetee seems to have a better foundation and pushes the Sci-fi boundaries more than Source Code.

    Maybe 'Source Code 2' will be better...

  • Comment number 29.

    Anyone who thinks Source Code is good should watch Deja Vu, which has exactly the same premise and the exact same story elements. Despite being a Tony Scott film it is far superior to the lame Source Code and it's only average.



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