Source Code -- it’s impossible to not compare this one to Inception just in terms of proximity**. (Obviously for one to be released so quickly after the other, the two projects had to be in development at the same time, more or less, and so it’s fairly childish to accuse the one of “copying” the other -- especially since as a sci-fi trope this is older than Methuselah). Up front, I’ll just let you know that for reasons that are tiny in number but loom large in my brain, I prefer Source Code. (If I must spoil, I’ll Rot’13.)
Both deal with alternative times/spaces/worlds located only in the mind, and the ramifications of one’s behavior in those worlds on what is real.
There’s dead women at the heart of each. Sort of. There’s a thin tightrope stretched over those Fridges, shall we say.
There is a healthy dose of your typical “I have to tell my father”/Oh if only my son knew” business. Um...yeah.
In a nutshell, Inception ultimately registered with me as sweet (and triumphant), whereas Source Code registered with me as bittersweet (and triumphant), and because of that, I feel that I walked away from Source Code not only with more going on inside me emotionwise but more to ponder. One could take that sentence and dismiss Source Code as a tearjerker, which is not entirely misguided, and I would allow it had Inception not attempted just as much jerkage with footage of cute slo-mo children with curly hair.
Don’t get me wrong. I walked out of Inception feeling quite joyful, and perfectly OK with how I’d spent my cash.
It’s just that in contrast I walked out of Source Code feeling that it had actually given me what it promised me.
Hands down, Inception was the more ambitious, both in concocting a rationale and rules for the sci in its fi and in its cinematography. Source Code does not do this, which is probably a good thing in terms of the film aging well. I listened to the character explaining his technology and had a distinct impression of the way the progression of real-world knowledge renders science fiction, well, adorable
eventually, in a “World of Tomorrow” at Disneyland sort of way. Source Code handles this by being very swift -- having an impatient character technobabble very quickly and with great impatience, using the word “quantum” a lot, telling the POV character “oh, you just wouldn’t understand anyway huff-puff-blowhardblowhard OH WE DON’T HAVE TIME CLOCK TICKING DOWN YOU UNSCHOOLED BARBARIC NEOPHYTE, OMG” -- but in so doing, scientifically soundly or not, he lays down the rules of this game concisely and in short order. (And -- for the most part -- the rules don’t change, it’s just that Mr. POV refuses to believe in them.) So it's very clear that the "rules" are not the important part of this story (and I think that's a good thing). They're not pretending to be real rules, they're simply establishing a framework in which we are going to ask and debate some questions by seeing them acted out.(Mr. POV also kinda gets called on his racism. 0_0 Kinda)
Source Code... is just a much smaller film. Despite the fact that at stake is the nuclear death and contamination of all of Chicago (whereas what’s at stake in Inception is an extremely mercenary business practice, with the justification “they are bad people” tossed off and meant to be accepted because... because), Source Code versus Inception still feels like comparing a traditional English “cozy” mystery with something world-spanning, location-leaping, cast-of-hundreds-having, by Robert Ludlum. There is violence, there is action, there is planning, and there is punching and leaping from moving objects (with fire!), but because the scenario cycles over and over again with the same few people, the same significant objects, the same clues that must be fitted and refitted to make the correct sense, I dunno, it’s more or less inevitable that the characters become more multifaceted. Annnnnnnd, I can’t say more than that without spoiling big time. Bummer.
I think the main thing, though, is that (for!me!) Inception had a fatal (for!me!) flaw that completely removed all menace from the story for!me! That is to say: Removing the ability of the characters to die in Inception basically changed the game from “will Hero get this objective he wants, or will he never get it; will that be the sacrifice” to “will Hero get his objective now, or will he have to wait a little bit, equaling not much of a sacrifice at all, really?” I did not feel as if the main character had much at stake, much menace, in a physical sense or an emotional sense. (If I had felt, as many [with reason] did, that the ending was ambiguous, then my opinion might change. Clarification -- I felt that what ambiguity there was didn’t matter.)
OK, I’ve gone as far as I can without Rot’13-ing. Use this translator: http://rot13.com/index.php
In contrast, Source Code convinced me that everything was at stake for this one character, including
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am. Me! Myself!
I think Source Code might have been better sci-fi, made more of a statement, and possibly would have gotten closer to being a flawless work (It isn’t. By any means.) if the film had just gone and [raqrq ng gur serrmr senzr]. It would have been... gutsier? But
I would have been much more incapacitated with the crying in the streets
But choosing to do things the way they ultimately did provide a measure of redemption for a couple characters, including one I didn’t think ought to have been demonized in the first place. So that was nice. Cold Science does not get short shrift in favor of the nebulous Power of Heart, shall we say. The way they handled things, however, does lend more credence to the "rules" mentioned up top, which makes them too much of the focus of the story, too much of the source of ultimately trivial debate, as opposed to the larger and more universal questions that were already dealt with, so to speak.
Er, what else? The reveals are all heartbreaking even if you did guess them in the first 15 minutes, which I did, sort of (they attempt twistiness). It works for the story.
No clever ending, this isn’t a real review. I liked it. I don’t want my money back. :-D And I didn’t rewrite the script in my head all the way home, which is saying something.
**And, well, because everybody and their Grandpappy Jim has already done it.
(And I kind of wish they wouldn’t, even if I’m engaging in the same shenanigans here.)