In “Source Code”, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, an American helicopter pilot, finds himself on a commuter train, “trapped” inside someone else’s body, during the same 8 minutes before the explosion of a bomb that will kill him and everyone else in the train. And then he lives these minutes again, and again, because, it turns out, he is on a mission.
“Groundhog Day”, on the other hand, did not turn to any science, sloppy or not, to explain why and how this entrapment in that particular day had happened. By watching Bill Murray’s character’s ordeal, however, we could not but get a sense that a sort of second chance was given to him, one that he was sort of obliged to make the best use of: Our weatherman would have to live the same day again and again for as long as it was needed because he had to become a better person. Better? What does this mean? We do not know, and Bill Murray’s character did not either, he had to figure it out for himself. The weatherman was trapped inside past patterns of behaviour and was now “forced” to find a way through and past them, if he was ever to leave Groundhog Day.
One would think that this is an appropriate metaphor for analysis –of course, leaving the being “forced” aspect aside. One is “trapped” inside patterns of past behaviour, helplessly living and reliving them, until such moment comes that it becomes unavoidable to take action. (Now, I cannot know if this was the intention of Harold Ramis, the man who directed “Groundhog Day”, but I cannot but observe that he has also directed “Analyse This”, this comedy about therapy and the mafia, with Robert De Niro.)
In “Source Code” the hero is not trapped in the errors of his own past behaviour patterns as such –in fact he is not trapped in any kind of pattern of his own at all. But he is expected to revisit any single second in these eight minutes that he finds himself in, in an effort to find some vital information missing, and thus to complete his mission.
I am not going to give out more spoilers for the story. If you are interested, please do find the film and watch it.
I will only add one more comment. “Source Code” belongs to this group of films which also includes recent blockbusters like “Inception”, “Avatar”, “Matrix”, “12 Monkeys” and “Total Recall” (to name but a few) but also older films such as “Last Year in Marienbad” (1963) or “La Jetée” (1962).
What those films, and many others, share in common is the premise that a set of experiences is something that “happens” to one’s body, something that can be “fed” into one’s brain in order to create a completely believable (or deceitful) semblance of reality. Characters in those movies are willingly or unwillingly allowing themselves to be transferred in a simulated reality (“Matrix”) or to occupy a different body (“Avatar”, “Source Code”). The origin of this premise, or rather, its most prominent exponent in the West, is of course Descartes. In other words, what these films have in common is the Cartesian version of the mind-body problem.
And we have seen elsewhere how difficult is to get away from Descartes' solution.