Source Code’s Ending: Bitter Pill?


At the end of the film, Colter Stevens has been transported to the train, where he finally averts the explosion and then stays in the body of Sean Fentress.  It appears this is possible because he isn’t killed as Sean, so he isn’t snapped back to his body.  If he had failed, he would be dead for good since Goodwin pulls the plug on his body.

But what about the real Sean Fentress?  Since the Source Code machine is thought to just tap into the memory of someone already dead, there’s not a lot of moral consideration for Fentress considering the mission (which is also Stevens’ situation).  But since Sean Fentress doesn’t die on the train due to Stevens’ intervention, what happens to his consciousness?

In Quantum Leap, protagonist Sam Beckett would be downloaded into someone’s body (essentially) and while he is “putting things right, that once went wrong,” that person would be hanging out with Ziggy and the cigar-chomping Al at the time travel facility.

But there’s none of that in Source Code.  Would that mean that Fentress’ consciousness is floating around somewhere forever, or is he simply killed when pushed out of his mind?  It’s even more final if they merely swap bodies, with Stevens running off with Fentress’ gal while he dies with Stevens’ veggie body.

"That other guy was boring anyway."

– Remington Smith

22 responses to “Source Code’s Ending: Bitter Pill?

  1. There is a theory that says that our Universe is constantly splitting into different Universes whenever more than one possible outcome is present. So when you decided to turn left instead of right at the stoplight this morning the Universe split in two and in one you went left and in the other you went right. See “Schrödinger’s cat”.ödinger's_cat

    So when Colter would appear on the train he was splitting off into an Alternate Universe that started at that precise point. So that version of Sean didn’t exist until the moment Colter arrived on that train. Therefore there was never a Sean consciousness associated with that body. It’s like a clone that suddenly comes into being that now houses the mind of another person while everyone else in the world retains the previous memories from the previous real Universe.

    • The Filmsmith

      The problem with this argument is that once that alternate reality is created, it’s not like everyone in that reality is a zombie that can be used and abused. For there to be a Sean Fentress body, there would have to be a consciousness connected to it for Stevens to steal it.

      Plus, that’s just assuming that he’s creating a new world and not leaping into an already existing one.

    • I really enjoyed this movie; it is a hell of a movie Mr.Jones…..
      This is my interpretation of the movie,
      1) ok! first things first, the source code indeed creates alternate realities/parallel universe…….here is the proof, in the scene where Stevens finds the bomber and get shot, the time duration inside the source code exceeds 8 minutes, 8.34 minutes to be precise, this is a clear indication that source code indeed creates alternate reality…… if u think it is a major plot hole coz Goodwin and Rutledge should have known if he is more than 8 minutes in source code. But in other sense, they both deliberately misinformed Stevens that it is only valid for 8 minutes to prevent Stevens from doing anything irrelevant to the mission. This proves that the only way Stevens will come back to the castle is that he have to die..
      2) At the end, when the scene is frozen, it is a psychological thing. Stevens think the source code will exists only 8 minutes, the frozen scene was just a manifestation of Stevens just like being in a capsule. But Stevens didn’t experience the same when he get shot which is clearly exceeds 8 minutes, this is coz his concentration was completely on finding the bomber and he didn’t notice the time, hence it is purely psychological.
      3) As for the ending is concerned, it is not a paradox, Stevens caught the bomber, make everyone happy in the train, saved the explosions, lived happily ever after(sort of). Stevens lives in Sean’s body with his consciousness and also he is also awaiting his first source code mission in beleaguered castle. Yes, Stevens living with two consciousness in the same world just like back to the future movie.
      4) In the meantime, they have created several parallel universe in which every time thousands of people died coz of train and Chicago explosions, except for the last time. The worst part is, in every parallel universe created, Stevens will be send in the source code to create several parallel universe again……….

  2. Tarek Alsamiri

    Brad your theory is wrong! how could he have sent the message if he was in an alternate reality or a code of memories. I still don’t know if I liked the movie or not just because the ending leaves to many conflicts. I guess I liked the movie but absolutely could not digest the ending. maybe It was a film meant for people who are not too smart!

    • critropolitan

      He didn’t send the message successfully to the original Goodwin, he sent the message to a different Goodwin in an alternative reality. This is made apparent because the news in this alternative Goodwin’s lab is that there was a *failed* terrorist attack – whereas the Goodwin in the main reality that Stevens initially returns repeatedly to, exists after a successful terrorist attack.

  3. i just finished watching. i was also wondering about Sean Fentress. Maybe when Goodwin was reading her text from Colter, Colter text ” somewhere in the facility you have a Captain Colter Stevens waiting on a mission” . If his text would have read ” somewhere in the facility you have a Sean Fentress waiting on a mission” , i think that would have been better. It would be a continuous swapping of consciousness, using Coter’s brain.

  4. I think Sean’s consciousness only exists in Sean’s body in timelines where Colter didn’t take it over. Since the world created at the end of the movie wouldn’t exist without Colter’s intervention, I think Sean lost nothing. Colter didn’t replace Sean in a reality that Sean could have lived in at all. He created a NEW one. It might be the body of Sean that Colter now lives in, but since Sean didn’t save the train it is not a reality he could have lived anyway. The only way for Sean to be saved is if HE had stopped the bomb himself the first time.

  5. Yeah I had some problems with that too. I had thought they’d end with the Freeze frame, and that’s that. The Simulation ends and Stephens dies. But they carried on. Had they froze, Sean leapt back in, either with or without the intervening 8 Minuets, and Stephens ended up back in the Lab, or if the two merged somehow, I’d think it better.

    Still, even if Sean’s mind is not in Stephens body, he’d still have to say to Goodwin that its Colton Stephens wouldn’t he? Saying “Sean Fentriss” would make no sense to her.

  6. The big problem is for me is how Source Code even works in the first place. If Colton’s brain is borrowing information from Sean’s to learn about Sean’s final 8 minutes, then how is he able to learn things that Sean’s brain has no knowledge of?! Anything Colton does differently than Sean should be discredited as his own brain’s imagination, much like the ‘capsule’ he imagines himself to be in.

    The ending is abysmal. Are they REALLY trying to suggest that Colter goes on living in a different physical dimension with a new body? It seems to me that anything that happens after the big FREEZE is nothing more than the final imaginings of a dying brain, recently removed from life support. So yeah, he can get off that train and contact Goodwin, but only in his imagination. This ‘new dimension’ shouldn’t exist to anyone else in a tangible and objective reality.

    To answer the original question: The old Sean is dead. The ‘new’ Sean and everything in the ‘new’ reality has only existed at the moment Colter wakes up in his body. That’s the origin or ‘big bang’ of the ‘new’ universe, so the old Sean is not part of it. His consciousness died in the original train bombing.

    • critropolitan

      As ridiculous and silly as it is, I think that you are supposed to genuinely believe that Coltons is not merely tapping into some recovered memory in bits of the deceased Sean Fentress’s brain, rather he is, through some magic psudo-science “quantum physics” means, in an alternative reality that ‘branched’ from the primary reality 8 minutes prior to the explosion. Otherwise how could they possibly hope to find any information about the bomber: the original deceased Sean didn’t follow the bomber off the train and see his drivers license and van license plate number, so that information could not have come from the deceased Sean’s head, it must have come through an alternative reality Sean’s observations obtained while Coltons was controlling his body.

  7. In regards to how the Source Code project works it is interesting to point out that if all the information available to Colter is derived from the last 8 minutes of Sean’s consciousness and nothing more then he wouldn’t be able to perform actions or experience details like questioning passengers towards any truthful conclusions or getting off the train to visit a mens room Sean had never visited or at least not visited in the last 8 minutes of his life. Colter would have stepped off the grid so to speak and this fact as Colter points out early in the film when amazed by the level of detail in what he then believes to be a simulation offers credence to what this movie is really about.
    Source Code is a movie about alternate realities not the afterlife or dreams. Each scenario in which Colter’s consciousness inhabits Sean’s body creates a diverging timeline of events or alternate reality from the central narrative. The character Dr. Rutledge who, as as an audience member we can assume is the most knowledgeable about the workings of Source Code eludes to this fact during his conversation with Colter shortly after Colter becomes aware of his own death in the narrative. Speaking to the point that even if Colter would try and contact him while in the Source Code he would be contacting another version of Rutledge not the one in the narrative.
    The question of what happens to Sean’s consciousness each time Colter’s is implanted in his mind is never fully addressed. Is Sean’s consciousness still in his mind, supressed only to return once Colter has left the alternate reality and returned to the narrative or is it wiped into obscurity by Colter’s consciousness each time? Interestingly a few of Colter’s trips away from the narrative immediately after testing Rutledge’s patience and Rutledge orders Goodwin to no longer give Colter breaks repeatedly sending him back time after time are given a yadda, yadda, yadda treatment and there’s no way we could no if all those trips ended with the death of Sean’s body. Maybe Colter took a break in one of those trips and just walked off the train. In the sequence in which Colter confronts the bomber for the first time he is shot but doesn’t necessarily die, in fact he’s alive enough to roll over and watch the train explode before being yanked back into the narrative. Will Sean’s conciousness return in that timeline? Wake up from a 3 month coma with no recollection of why he was shot in a parking lot alongside the woman he loves.
    The ending and it’s controversial text message can be explained as thus; Colter departs the narrative with the help of Goodwin and enters the mind of Sean creating the final alternate reality of the movie. Colter must believe to some degree that he has in fact been creating alternate realities otherwise he would have never bothered sending the text message at all. It turns out he’s right. During the freeze frame scene after Colter’s 8 minutes are up his life support in the narrative is terminated and in that moment the consciousness of Colter having not been pulled back into the narrative beforehand and with no body to return too after becomes a fixed part of that final reality. The main narrative or central reality of the film is over at that point. The film continues for the first time following the events of an alternate reality and it’s in this reality that Goodwin receives the text message about the thwarted train bombing.
    The only questions I was left with as a viewer are; what happens to Goodwin in the narrative, is she court martialed and imprisoned for her act of compassion, and if Sean’s consciousness was only being supressed in these alternate realities will aspects of him begin to emerge in the future of the final reality? If you’ve ever seen any other tv shows or movies involving time travel or alternate universes they’re all a little messy but this film isn’t nearly as bad as some and it’s worth saying very entertaining.

  8. Of course as the nature of the source code dynamics is never really laid out with a full scientific description. How they achieve what seems to be explained as a alternate reality enacted through the subject coulter experiencing the past regression objective reality of seans memory is never explained beyond, they are in the process therefore somehow it is being achieved.Haxwells observation that if this is the scenario then how would seans memory as perceived by coulter have any bearing on the real event as they would simply be the fabrication of his memoryscape. As he had no actual real experience of events outside of what he happened to experience on the occasion that the events previously took place, unless he somehow had experienced the necessary details to provide coulter with a solution to rectify the event or there combined consciousnesses came up with an imaginary solution that could have stopped the real event.In any event they all seem as farfetched as the original premise that somehow coulters semi alive carcass is entering seans mind/memory as the experiencing subject.Nevertheless it is a movie and intended for entertainment so suspension of disbelief and good imagination are necessary elements to take advantage of this original sci-fi.From this perspective it would seem the storyline progresses from the beginning with the idea that the reality coulter experiences through seans memory is accurate and able to collect info that has a bearing on real time events(if one was to suspend disbelief and use their imagination one might surmise previous military experiments had already established the ability of the source code to accurately collect intel from the past had already been established)otherwise it would’nt be in the interest of the military to fund the project or try an unproved method on a mass life threatening crisis.Towards the end a new premise is introduced that was previously denied by the operators understanding -you cannot alter the future that has already transpired up until the point you enter the memory/experience of sean from the source code-,the new premise is that the events that transpire within the source code regression do in fact create an effect on the future of events that previously transpired .How that is effected is another topic for discussion or speculation, my opinion is that switching coulter off while he is situated in the source code effectively leaves him in the alternate reality or the newly created reality-which leads me to my next point.What is it? an alternate reality or simply the original reality which has been recreated by changes that coulter made whilst making forays into that period of the source code. Personally the title lends itself to the storyline being intended to mean the source code is meant for modifying the source of reality by altering the source code hence the name source code.For proponents of the original theory that it is simply an imaginary reality that has no bearing on actual reality despite coulter actually sending a text beyond the 8 minute time limit(as that may be enacted within his source code imaginary reality as well!) ,there is a significant fallacy in that theory. According to the film coulters operator perceives from her own perspective separate from coulters “so called” imaginary experience a reality that has come into effect as a result of his source code tinkering. This corroborates the theory that the source codes effect is not limited to an imaginary world.The real question is whether this is an alternate parallel type world created by tampering with the pre-established remouldable source code or simply put a re-edit of the one established reality through the mysterious god like source code.I think the crux of the matter lies within the text sent to coulters operator- which states amongst other things “you’ve created a whole new world”.Within the context of an alternate reality the direct meaning of that statement would indicate and support the whole alternate reality theory. Yet I beg to differ as the source code procedure originates and operates from the original reality, it is therefore more relevant context to take the txt from . In the original reality if someone makes the statement you’ve created a whole new world its direct meaning is not taken as creating an alternate parallel universe it means you have simply created a new future or direction in which the world takes. No one could interpret such a statement to directly mean creating a separate world or alternate reality unless indeed you had actually created a new planet or parallel universe which i for one feel is reserved to the likes of god not a casualty of war that could’nt even recreate his own lower torso that had been blown off! As such a plot(containing an alternate reality) diminishes the importance of any outcome being personally connected to our reality,one fails to see the signifigance of any act we commit or indeed our very own self. A alternate reality means we can redetermine any act committed through a different version of ourselves with my emphasis being on someone else exactly the same as us but not us making us decidedly ununique. I for one don’t like being robbed of my unique personality from some clone in a screwed up universe where I am held responsible for things I have’nt even done.In conclusion I would like to say both endings seem to be possible interpretations because the atomic catastrophe was averted before he got switched off as opposed to the final ending where it was averted even before the train blew up and he remained dormant while his alternate self operated within a paradoxical time difference, that converged within the original timeline due to being allowed to continue past the 8min limit of the source code jumps. Through the agency of sean’s vessel the whole movie was enabled yet sadly the whereabouts of this mans displaced consciousness is sadly neglected.Without his consent he has become the sacrifice for the project a necessary triage casualty in the overall event so if there is sequel it would be nice to know how his soul has somehow transcended the normal order of re- appropriation to his next body or whether he in fact takes birth as the disgruntled love child of capt coulters stephens and his new traingirl love.

  9. Two comments, one about the movie, another about time travel/alternate realities.
    In the movie the reality created for Colter is computer generated and therefore not real.
    It cannot ever become a reality because it is a simulation.
    The idea that you could tap into someones last 8 minutes would only allow you to relive their last 8 minutes as they lived it. Like watching a movie. No changes, no deviation.
    Even if you assumed control of their body, you would only be able to experience a shared reality with generic people and things and events in it. Clocks would still tick, cars would still drive past, people would walk by, but they would only be amalgamations of clocks, cars, and people you or the person whose body you are in has seen in their lives on a similar day. Since the reality would be what they experienced or would have expected to experience had they deviated from his expected path.
    So basically the person he inhabited would not have been able to imagine a bomb at all as the person he inhabited never even knew what hit him when he blew up. At best he would imagine his own version of a bomb.
    The alternate reality being generated by someones consciousness is extremely limited.
    I think I have talked in circles long enough on the movies premise being implausible.

    Time travel/alternate realities.
    Time does not care about causality.
    If you travel back in time, you will not cease to exist if you kill an earlier version of yourself, or anyone in your family. You will simply continue on and an altered (not alternate) reality will unfold.
    Just because no-one will know who you are if you go forward to your present, does not mean that you will disappear.
    Time is not a strict thing always trying to stay on track, correcting changes as it goes, in order not to prevent a paradox. There is no such thing as a time paradox. If reality is altered, it becomes an altered reality, not an alternate reality. Yes, it would technically be alternate to what you knew, but it would be the standard to everyone else. There would not be two co-existing realities, just a single reality in which you now live, and still recall how things were before you made a change. Time paradoxes are impossible and unnecessary, because time is not waiting for an event to occur to create its current reality. It simply is how it is now. If a person goes back and makes a change, the reality they remembered simply ceases to exist and the altered reality unfolds as the one and only reality.
    Its not like time is a watchman, waiting for that guy to reach a point in time where he goes back to justify this reality.
    In short, time does not care about causality.

  10. Richierichrichrich

    Got to agree/believe/like with the first reply, by Brad.

    How anyone can say this film is for ‘not so smart’ people is a joke. Sometimes films don’t have to answer EVERYONES questions, theories, or beliefs.

    Just believe in the Source Code and the Source Code will believe in you.

  11. First off ,the Schrödinger’s_cat theory is just quantum mechanical theory(Assumption theory) and it does not mean if you pick one of two choices,another reality for the non-chosen is being created.It more refers to variables of possibilities(this theory still needs to be proven).Every reality needs a source,to create another dimensional reality you need to break that Source (with example time travel).That being said here is a few things to keep in mind as I explain the ending .
    1.This is not like Inception.Inception is Dream-state/ Minority and not parallel reality (Groundhog`s day/ Minority report).Dreams are not reality although it might seem like it.
    Source code is memory using a genius mind in a deep dream-state(coma) combined with Source code (They don`t explain Source code much.)
    2.“Lily woke in an evening dress and an opera cloak….”
    3.Source code can copy the memory of minds (last 8 minutes or so).It somehow also contains everything of the universe within itself.(Perhaps the code of reality)Captain Stevens copied Source code into his own mind along with all the necessary data to create a parallel universe that runs with Source code.Perhaps all the universe and everything we need to know are already locked inside our minds but just undiscovered.)It is also false what Dr.Rutledge says that he cannot exist after 8 minutes beyond the Source code.
    4.Captain Coltor Stevens is SC1,he will always be SC1 in all universes.There is no psychic relation between him and his other versions.There doesn`t need to be.They are all the same,because parallel reality only started to exist from when he really died.All his childhood memories and experiences are the same up to the point when he will start his ‘first mission’.
    Dr.Rutledge did talk about bringing in more Source code ‘candidates’ so to speak.But SC1 is the trial version.
    5.Dr.Rutledge is waiting for a crises to occure so that he can use SC and proof it works.(he is greedy and doesn`t care for Cpt.Stevens life.)
    6.He sees his real reflection as he truly visions himself at the end of the film in the Cloud Gate sculpture and not as Sean.
    7.Time travel is possible within the context of Source code.They don`t reveal how many times he has done his mission but add that up with 8 minute increments and you get the idea.

    Source code is reality but just in code format.Source code enables Scientist to capture (copy) the last 8 minutes of someones mind track(code).Source code can only function with a sort of ‘operator’ mind as the computer(Apparently smart people in comas works best).In order to create a past event of reality ,scientists needed a memory of a diseased person for the ‘operator’ to use combined with The code…When Cpt.Stevens DIED in reality (when Goodwin unpluuged him) his mind was still WITHIN THE SOURCE CODE,he was already plugged into the Program at that moment within the visual memory of Sean (which was The code).His mind was not in reality because we saw he was in a coma prior to his death. So the last 8 minute track of his mind wasn`t his reality but Source Code itself , although he still retained all his memories.That`s how Source code copied his last happy 8 minutes as he died.Source code needs a source to function with.CPt.Stevens mind is the source now and not Sean`s 8 minute memory,his mind in contrast copied Source code and created a parallel universe.In that universe he no longer exists as Sean as he existed in the 8 minutes.Sean is dead in reality and that was only part of his 8minute memory that existed.Sean`s memory cannot exist beyond that 8 minutes but Cpt.Stevens` can.He transferred himself into this reality after the 8 minutes.Sean`s memory was deleted and he replaced it with his own perception.

    The real Cpt.Stevens still exists in this new reality at Beleaguered Castle.This version of Cpt.Stevens will be send on another mission ,not the train one(Perhaps to stop a suicide bomber on an airplane or an assassination) ,because the bomb already has been defused that morning on the train in that reality and he informed the law enforcement of this;remember when he took Derek Frost`s phone,and related all the necessary information to the police.Now, when this new Cpt.Stevens will solve his ‘first mission’, he too will ask to be unplugged ( hopefully ) at the 8 minute end run and create another universe within the Original Source code universe. The original Cpt.Stevens knows himself and knows other version of himself would do the same.Thus eventually rendering Source code useless.Dr.Rutledge will for ever only have 1 successful mission under Cpt.Stevens and the more Parallel realities within realities that are being created the more ‘a time for a crises’ will be postponed and averted until they shut down the SC1 project.That`s basiclly the ending explained.

    Now this is really the important question.What is the source of Source Code?It needs a mind supported by a life source to interact with other memories.Source code is then in a sense 50% of the life source of it`s operator.The one cannot exist without the other.When Cpt.Stevens died in reality,Source code must have copied the last 8 minutes of his mind,which means it copied itself.So it exists within itself.It can exist within itself until there are no more Cpt.Stevens to create more parallel universes.Cpt.Coltor Stevens can only truly exist through other minds by saving their lives and sacrificing his own…Awesome film

  12. One of the most important details, and which many seems to have overlooked, is that the whole source code project is still only a project! It is clear in the ending that the crew itself doesnt fully understand what it is capable of, and in the message to Goldwin, he says that”the project worked better than ever imagened”. My guess is that that the reality itself is altered, more like the time travel theory, and not creating yet another parallel world. Also the concept of using a persons last subconscious minutes, leads to a more effective and free way of viewing the persons final minutes. We are not given this information, but as we know, they dont fully understand the powers of the source code yet, and this is only an assumption.

  13. These are very complex explanations; it is actually quite simple to understand the entire plot if you start from a different assumption about reality. Most everyone assumes that everyone is inside of the same reality, perceiving it, or that if there are alternate realities, then there are multiple people in each reality, all perceiving that same reality.

    Instead, turn things inside out: What if reality is a projection of human consciousness itself? What if YOU project the entire reality you perceive from your consciousness, you manifest it. You are the center of your universe, and it truly is YOUR universe? Each time the captain wakes up on the train, it spawns a new universe from his consciousness — including all the people on the train, and all the people on the planet, and all the planets, stars, other life elsewhere — an entire universe. Does anyone except the captain even really exist?

    Well, actually, the captain doesn’t exist of course — he’s a character in a movie that you just watched. The only person who exists is you.

  14. You know what i think….
    it is something like this…
    In the main timeline where the film takes place..,Sean is dead in the morning itself and no trace of his consciousness is left…whatsoever actions he did prior to the bombing may had created another realities,but of no consequences in the movie.
    Source code works like this,
    It in a sense “cut and pastes” last 8 minutes of the existence of any conscience in a lab module and give a chance to re-live it again and again,(This is not Simply memory but another world altogether)make different choices and create different realities out of it.
    So,when Capt.Stevens is assigned Sean’s body,in an alternate reality,he can make anything out of it,Sean’s consciousness after those 8 minutes DO NOT EXIST. A very likely question to follow is then how can the consciousness of other travellers exist in that parallel world after those 8 minutes…. answer is simple,they were not part of the changes which Stevens created,the observer is Stevens and without his intervention nothing could had changed…. So in a sense you can say that Sean’s last 8 minutes gave Stevens to bring change in a parallel world where he continued live his life in body of sean even after those last 8 minutes .As his body in main universe was dead,he struck there and lived.Sean’s consciousness is not suppressed ,it ended in the main world and whatsoever other changes his physical body is able to do to create alternate realities and parallel world is because of Stevens soul ,who use the last 8 minutes of Sean’s life ,which is now in the computers of a secret lab of main universe,to create new world and at last lives happily in one of these world as if he took a new birth!

  15. Wouldn’t it make sense that he made a paradox because of his other consciousness. He lives because in the alternate parallel world another Colter lives? Thus he’s living Sean’s body because his other consciousness is alive.

  16. rufus backslide

    your all missing the real stupidness here. how could he send a text message during those last 8 minutes that could travel back in time to be received on goodwins phone the morning before. That is just stupid. that is all that matters…. its not even logical… magic time traveling text messages? come on!

  17. What i think is that sean’s and steven’s soul is exchanged. That is the only solution to the paradoxical ending .
    Coz the main question is that where did sean’s soul go?
    Steven can go only in that person’s body who will die in the next 8 as steven changed history and train doesn’t explode,it means sean has to die in any possible way. As soon as goodwin pushes the button sean’s soul enters steven’s body and he dies

  18. Easy, as there are endless alternates to everything, Sean is everywhere he could be. he does not have one conscious, he has infinite. Sean still lives in every other alternate, where he doesn’t die from a train explosion.

    Furthermore, there could be a reality where Godzilla saves the people on the train, Sean would still be alive in that specific reality.

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