Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, guest author James Kopecky considers the ending of Source Code.
When I see a movie, I take it as a two-hour-long glimpse into a reality that has a rich history, as well as an ongoing, unwritten future. After the credits roll, I assume that the characters and the story keep moving, most likely in the direction they were headed when the picture ended. So when I saw Source Code (check out our review of the film), I thought about what happened to the characters after the screen faded to black.
This turned out to be problematic for me because the ending of Source Code raised a slew of questions, some more perplexing than others.
Source Code is the story of “recently deceased” Army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens repeatedly inhabiting the body of recently deceased Chicago school teacher Sean Fentress for the last eight minutes of the latter’s life (hilarity ensues). At the end of the movie, we are to believe that Captain Stevens continues to live on inside the body of mild-mannered Sean Fentress in an alternative universe. In this new reality, the nuclear bomb has not gone off, everyone on the train (except the black businessman in the seat next to Fentress) makes it to Chicago on time, and Russell Peters embarks on a comedy career appreciated by people other than just Indian college students. Surely, a happy ending for everyone… or is it?!?
What satisfied audiences everywhere may not realize is that ultimately Sean Fentress still dies. There’s no doubt that his man parts give Christina the ride of her life in the very near future, but for the rest of his body’s natural life, it will be Captain Stevens at the helm. For all intents and purposes, the consciousness that was Sean Fentress fell asleep on a Chicago bound commuter train, and in at least a dozen or so separate realities, he never woke up again. Turns out Duncan Jones loves giving the screw job to public school teachers as much as Wisconsin.
I can deal with Sean Fentress dying. That doesn’t bother me. He was going to die anyway when the bomb went off, and at the very least Captain Stevens, an American hero, gets a new lease on life. What bothers me is that we leave Captain Stevens as he is about to have his first date with the lovely Christina and are to assume that everything works out well from then on in this new, better universe. But what’s really happening is that Captain Stevens now inhabits the body of a total stranger that he knows absolutely nothing about.
What if after their first date, Caroline decides she’s not “that kind of girl” and gives Captain Stevens (now Sean Fentress) a simple kiss on the cheek, saving that sweet, sweet poonanny for date number two? What does Captain Stevens do then? Go home? How? Where is home? All he knows is that Fentress takes the train into Chicago for work. If Captain Stevens somehow figures out what train station is in Fentress’s home town, what does Sean Fentress’s car look like? Does Fentress even have a car? What if he rides his bike to the train station, as could be expected of a modestly dressed, possibly liberal school teacher?
What’s the combination to Fentress’s bike lock?
What’s more, Fentress’s cell phone is broken. Setting aside the notion that Captain Stevens can’t use Google Maps to get directions to an apartment he’s never been to before, how does he get a hold of anybody? It’s not like he can call his old family, because as we see in the final scene, Captain Stevens’s body is still “recently deceased” in this new reality. More importantly, he now can’t call Sean Fentress’s family either.
Forgetting about the fact that he would have absolutely nothing to talk to Fentress’s family about because he’s never met them before (which I feel would raise some red flags in the Fentress household), he doesn’t even know their phone numbers. With a broken phone, he is almost completely cut off from every person Sean Fentress ever knew. I don’t know about you, but the last time I committed a full ten-digit phone number to memory was the day I got my sweet ass Nokia 8210 back in 2001. So I have to assume, like me, Sean Fentress’s sole means of storing contact information is that stylish little smartphone he was rocking until Captain Stevens stole his life. And what if, as I postulated before, his date with Christina doesn’t go well and she decides this new, more spontaneous Sean Fentress isn’t for her? If that happens, Captain Stevens is in for a pretty shitty weekend because he will have just lost contact with quite literally the only person on Earth he knows.
Where to now, Stevens?
But Captain Stevens could just get a new phone, with all Sean Fentress’s contacts restored, because Fentress’s cell phone provider reliably backed up that information for him on a regular basis, right? Bullshit he can, because no cell phone provider is “reliable.” I know, because I use AT&T. But that’s beside the point. How can he get a new cell phone? What cell phone provider did Sean Fentress use? Even if Captain Stevens could ask Christina that question without looking like a total crazy person, why would she know that information? Now, I’ve never courted a woman on a Chicago-bound commuter train before, but I have to imagine my opening line wouldn’t be, “So, my Verizon signal kicks some serious ass on this route. What provider do you use?”
It may seem like I’m harping on the cell phone thing, but I’m just using it as an example to prove my point. I could be using anything. Like, even if he could get a new phone, how would he pay for it? We know he has no cash because he used his last $126 to buy Russell Peters some swagger. But even if he had saved that thick wad of scratch, there’s no way $126 would be enough to cover the cost of a new smartphone before the two-year contract term expires. Where does Captain Stevens get money? What bank did Sean Fentress use? What is Sean Fentress’s PIN number? Debit or credit? How much money does Fentress have left in his account? You see, we know absolutely nothing about Sean Fentress other than he rides a train to work, he’s a teacher, and he’s got mad skills when it comes to hitting on recently single women that are considering a career change.
Now hold on tight, because we’re about to sail into some considerably darker waters.
What if Sean Fentress has a wife and kids, and he’s been hitting on Christina to break up the monotony of a life he secretly hates? We’ve already established that he could never call this wife, even if he knew he was supposed to, but now that Captain Stevens is running the show, Sean Fentress may just fall off the face of the Earth as far as his loved ones are concerned. I’m sure the Fentress family could accept that their beloved husband/son/brother/uncle/best bro died in a train explosion because nothing can be done about that, but now we have to believe that they live in a world where Sean Fentress left for work one morning, never to be seen again (unless of course he is filmed in the front row of Russell Peters’s next Comedy Central special, now that white people are allowed to attend). But it could be even crazier than that.
What if Captain Stevens miraculously makes it back to Sean Fentress’s home (Mrs. Fentress and Sean, Jr. not included) and sitting in the living room is another dirty bomb and a note that reads, “Dear Sean. You know the deal: I do Chicago, you do New York! Let’s burn this mother down, buddy. Love, Derek Frost.” Or, even scarier, what if Captain Stevens opens Sean Fentress’s bedroom closet to find a bunch of dead bodies that used to be skinny brunettes who recently quit their teaching jobs to enroll in LSAT prep courses? Suddenly that lovely day Captain Stevens spends walking around the shores of Lake Michigan with Christina doesn’t seem so sweet anymore, does it?
Perhaps we can suspend disbelief and assume that during those brief moments that Captain Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge are debating the merits of using a human torso to fight domestic terrorism, some lab tech is briefing Captain Stevens on every minute detail of Sean Fentress’s life. Let’s say Steven’s knows where Fentress went to high school, what his dog’s name is, and whether or not Fentress would enjoy a Caucasian-friendly Russell Peters comedy show if he got free tickets (“Sean. Thanks for giving me my swing back. Namaste, Russell Peters”), he still has to live out the rest of his life as Sean Fentress.
Up until he was “recently deceased,” Captain Stevens was an Army helicopter pilot who saw some pretty serious action during multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. How well do you think he will adjust to being a public high school teacher in downtown Chicago? More so, as a military pilot, I’m sure Captain Stevens had pretty good grades in math, science, and possibly even geography, but what if Sean Fentress taught drama? What if he was the girls’ volleyball coach? What is Captain Stevens going to do then? If he wants to stay dressed in nice things, he better hope Christina is more committed to law school than she was to being a teacher (or possibly just make sure she never sits next to another smooth-talking gent on the train who may or may not be a domestic terrorist/serial killer), because I get the feeling his days are numbered with the Chicago public school system.
Is this article pure rubbish? Am I over-thinking an incidental plot element instead of appreciating the movie as a whole? Is this a great movie, even though it has left me with a head full of unanswered questions? The answer to all of these questions is unquestionably “yes.” All this ranting aside, I really enjoyed Source Code and I plan on seeing again someday. I just wanted to share with you some thoughts I had after seeing this very enjoyable movie. And we can all take solace in the fact that if this movie really ends the way it appears, with a former military man teaching at an inner-city high school, then The Substitute Quadrilogy finally got the prequel it deserves.
Until next time…
James Kopecky is a recent graduate from law school, practicing law in the Austin area. Although he scored well on the LSAT, he’s recently been convinced by a gruff-but-handsome stranger on a commuter train to give up his legal practice and go after his teaching certificate.