Warning: Spoilers below.
When Source Code begins, our time on the train seems perfectly normal. More importantly, it seems perfectly real. Within the context of the film, we understand our time on the train to be happening. As we find out later, this is not exactly the case.
In fact, those moments have barely even happened. They are the remnants of memories, representations of a past event that is now being rifled through like old trash, in search of some tell-tale clue that points to the one responsible for a train bombing. Sure, the train existed, as did the people on it. The setting, the characters, and the circumstance are all faithfully represented. And yet, the variables have changed.
For one thing, Colter Stevens’ consciousness was never present on that first train ride. He never felt the emotions that the person who originally inhabited the same body on the train did. And yet, he is experiencing these things as if they existed. In the moment, they feel entirely real – especially that first moment.
Of course, the more he is taken out of those moments, the more he begins to realize the truth. Those responsible for Colter’s circumstances aren’t particularly open with him, but eventually they share with him all that he needs to know: what he experiences on the train is little more than historical fiction. It is based on the memories of those that were on the train, and any changes made within the memory have no real bearing on anything outside of his own head.
This is a moment that all of us experience in our lifetime. We have our assumptions: the things we take as reality because they seem obvious to us. It’s understandable that we would live in light of these assumptions. After all, they’re all we know. What happens, though, when those assumptions are challenged? What happens when we are forced to acknowledge that we are not who we thought we were? What happens when we look around and realize that our circumstances are entirely different than we thought?
We go through much of our life convinced that we are one of the good guys. We watch films that aim to lull us into a false sense of moral security. Feel-good movies help us to feel good about ourselves, holding off any sense of the truth. Eventually, though, reality catches up with us. Sometimes it’s a gradual realization spurred on by a series of events. Other times, as was the case with Colter Stevens, reality arrives suddenly, unannounced. It rudely takes up residence within our mind and declares its existence.
It’s during these times that we make a fundamental choice, and it’s a choice that’s been consistently dramatized in films ever since films began to contemplate the question of knowledge: do we take the red pill or the blue pill? The Matrix popularized a trend that was continued in films like Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Fight Club. These films explored the question of how we know what we know, and what our response to having lived a lie should be. In each of these films, the truth is presented as the honorable choice. Accepting the lie is the coward’s way out.
That is starting to change. Inception presented us with a kind of apology for existing within a false reality, while giving equal time to the traditional view of truth as the greatest good. With Source Code, though, the scales are tipped fully in the direction of happiness at the expense of the truth. Throughout the film, the villains are presented as repeatedly pressing for the “truth”, while Colter is occupied trying to find some sort of happiness or peace with his life – honorable goals, especially for a person in his situation, but hardly honorable when the come at the expense of acknowledging the truth.
Conner’s few breakthroughs all take place within his own head – he calls his dad in his head, he builds a relationship with a woman in his head, and he stops a terrorist attack on a train in his head. Back in reality, things look resolutely bleak, and Conner is dead. In the world of Source Code, reality is a bummer – the real life is in our head.
Christians, though, have a responsibility to acknowledge the truth, not because it represents some high moral ground, but because it’s the only way to truly accept the reality of God’s creation and the most direct way to put our trust in Him. If we allow ourselves to remain buried in our own perception, we solve nothing in the real world. But the real tragedy is what that says about the way we perceive ourselves: we can do better than God. It may sometimes seem that way, but that will never really happen.