A Brief Analysis of Inception and Source Code

Disclaimer: it goes without saying that this post includes spoilers.

I just saw Source Code last night. Of course, I have seen Inception multiple times. How similar are these movies? How different are they? Is Summit trying to proffer an Inception competitor with Source Code? We shall see.

Hollywood has a habit of producing movies in pairs within 1 year of each other. Deep Impact vs. Armageddon. Antz vs. Bug’s Life. Nemo vs. Shark’s Tale. Illusionist vs. Prestige. Here’s a good article explaining further movie pairs.

With that said, I think a recent movie pair is Inception closely followed by Source Code. Let’s begin by seeing how these movies are similar. First, both include deadly trains. Second, and, most importantly, both rely on a pseudo-reality. Third, both have ramifications stemming from events occurring in said pseudo-reality. Fourth, both have a plot twist or key factor revolving around death.

Allow me to explain, and I will do so in reverse. Inception revolves around Mal committing suicide, which forces Cobb to flee the country, necessitating an intellectual heist of such a great magnitude that he could afford to return to the country and his family. Source Code revolves around the Captain’s being near dead, and for all intents and purposes, he is dead as half of his body is actually gone, entrails free but enclosed in a sealed plastic container, and only existing in a self-manifested capsule. Inception’s multi-layered dreams resulted in Fischer’s inception; Source Code’s source code resulted in a parallel universe in which the program was proven to have a far reaching effect going beyond what was thought capable. Inception relies on shared multi-layered dreams while Source Code relies on the afterglow effect of a consciousness as stored in a brain’s metaphorical hard drive, which allows an individual to access and re-experience a previous event as though it were a parallel universe. Inception used a train to bring Cobb and Mal back to reality; Source Code did this very thing at one point.

But these movies are also different. Inception offers no explanation as to how a dream can be shared between multiple people. It leaves the explanation open. We know why this technology was developed. Arthur stated that it was for military training purposes. But how it works exactly is not mentioned. Source Code differs in this respect, because it explains that the parallel universe is due to parabolic calculus and other things beyond my comprehension, which boils down to the analogy of a light bulb that has an afterglow–the event experienced by the individual, though passed, has a remnant that can be recorded–and the brain functions as the hard drive recording the event’s data, allowing the military to re-create and experience the past event over and over again to try and learn from it. One movie offers an explanation for how the pseudo-reality works, while the other movie does not.

Inception concerns dreams, which can have dreams, which can also have dreams. Source Code concerns a recorded event that can be re-experienced multiple times, but eventually is shown to be an artificially created parallel universe altogether. One movie deals with dreams, but the other deals with parallel universes.

Inception lacks a strong ethical stance. Cobb has no problem stealing intellectual property. Nor does he have a problem with forcing an idea upon someone else that is so strong it will cause said individual to destroy his father’s company. Source Code has a very strong political-ethical stance. On the one hand, it is very ethical: it is trying to use the artificially created parallel universe for the greater good of the people of Chicago. On the other hand, it is very political: it struggles with whether one take an individual off of life support who is requesting to be taken off of it, knowing full well that without the life support, they cannot live.

Although Inception is not a military movie, it does use military equipment, but Source Code is actually all about a military program in action.

Well, I probably could conjure up some more differences, but I have given plenty at this point. I am sure you get the idea.

Now, what do you think? Is Source Code merely Summit’s competitor for Inception? How else might these two movies compare or contrast? Concerning Inception, was Cobb still dreaming at the conclusion of the movie? In Source Code, was the Captain still alive and dreaming, or was he now existing in a parallel universe completely independent from the reality from which he came?