Friday, June 10, 2011

Bugs in The Source Code

As a software developer by trade, I was already put off going in watching the recent sci-fi film Source Code simply because any writer/producer who would employ such a title for a film that has absolutely nothing to do with actual source code must not be very technologically inclined. What then, can be expected from the rest of the script? The sad reality is, a whole lot more fiction than science. Yet, the film is entertaining enough, and the idea original enough, that it deserves some credit to allow for movie goers enjoying it as a pure fantasy rather than the sci-fi thriller that it presumes to be.

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Let's face it, you can't say much about the plot of this film without spoiling a lot of the surprises that actually made it enjoyable, so I'm putting in the alert early. The main "bug" in that respect is the believability of the experimental technology that forms the film's backdrop. It is already stretching the imagination to think that one could read the mind of another living human being in such a way that you could view their memory like it was a video recorder, but that's nothing new to Hollywood sci-fi. Now try that with someone who's already died in a train accident. Take the dead person's brain and somehow create a virtual reality playback of the final minutes of the accident that you can interact with.
Has anyone left the room yet? Ok, now we find that this virtual reality playback machine allows you to see things that nobody actually witnessed and therefore would not be in the memory of the subject in question's brain to begin with. What a nifty technology, but there's one little problem: only another dead person can actually use it. Huh? Let's back up. The explanation is that it's not memory playback at all. The mind somehow accesses parallel realities for a brief period after death. It does this via some type of quantum bifurcation (yes, there are theories about such things - see Penrose's Orch-OR theory). As the inventor puts it, "Source code is not time travel, it is time re-assignment". So they somehow capture this capability from the accident victim's brain and then link it in to another almost dead person's brain, creating some sort of bridge. We're probably well into fantasy territory by now, but that's nothing compared to what happens at the end of the film. I'll leave that to whatever imagination you may have left by then.

Now with all that off my chest, I will say that I did enjoy the movie. It is well directed, and the performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga (the operator named Goodwin, not the girlfriend), and the relationship that forms between them, are quite enjoyable. The suspense that is created is well crafted and almost non-stop, making it a fun thrill ride, which is fitting since most of the screen time is spent on a moving train. If you decide to see it, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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