Thursday, January 12, 2017

Great Scene: “Source Code”

One from a Great Scene series which ran in October 2014.

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s suggestion by Debbie Moon.

The 2011 movie Source Code, written by Ben Ripley, is a good example of a ‘big’ science fiction movie wrapped in a ‘small’ context. No outer space. No aliens. No intergalactic space battles. Just a simple, yet compelling concept set in the here and now. Via IMDB:

A soldier (Colter Stevens) wakes up in someone else’s body and discovers he’s part of an experimental government program to find the bomber of a commuter train. A mission he has only 8 minutes to complete.

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Source Code”

The main plot involves Stevens going back in time to experience the bombing again and again, the authorities who are controlling his existence through the program, sending him to find the bomber and stop it before it can happen, basically altering history.

That is an interesting plot device. However as with all good stories, there is also something else going on, something more specific to the Protagonist’s emotional life. In this case, Coleter ultimately pieces together the fact he was a soldier in Afghanistan who was — officially at least — killed in action (part of his body and his brain is being kept alive by the government as part of the Source Code program). He has an unfinished piece of business to attend to: Tell his father something.

So in the middle of the relentless go-go-go pace of the narrative, right toward the end, everything stops for this scene:

Key dialogue:

Colter: He said that the last time you guys talked was tough. And he wanted to say he was sorry.

This is the ‘ghost’ Colter Stevens carries with him, the guilt and pain of having that last confrontational conversation with his father. He hopes this phone call will provide a sense of closure. What his ‘confession’ precipitates is this response:

Colter’s Father: I just loved him so much. I wish I’d told him that.

Clearly the father has been dealing with his own ‘ghost,’ regret as well about their final interaction, a deep longing to repair history and at least express one last time his paternal affection for his son.

Thus in gaining closure for himself, Colter also enables his father to obtain some measure of peace with this response:

Colter: He knows it.

Beyond that emotional resolution, what makes the scene really pop are the cross-cuts to Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the Air Force officer directly involved in communicating to Colter’s consciousness as part of the Source Code program. She has a transformational arc of her own, moving from an efficient cog in the wheel of the system to developing a connection with Colter. In this scene, she actually opens the chamber in which Colter’s body rests, wires connected to his skull and brain activity, putting her in direct physical proximity with him for the first time. Check out the three shots from 1:49–2:15 in the clip:

— Colleen looks at Colter
 — Image of Colter’s unconscious body
 — Colleen studies Colter’s body, up and down his torso for a full 17 seconds

Why those cross-cuts? Why ‘interrupt’ Colter’s confession to his father with these images? I have my theory. Would love to hear yours. Head to comments and let’s see what you have to say about this question, and whatever else you may have noticed about this scene.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, Debbie! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!


Great Scene: “Source Code” was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Great Scene: “Source Code”

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