Media - Film - Source Code (2011)
For my section about looping and re-experiencing trauma, I considered looking at Groundhog Day, as it is arguably the most well known film that works with this format, however, after looking up a few articles, I found that the 2011 film, Source Code, seemed to use the same format (of reliving one day over and over again) in a way more directly associated with PTSD.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stephens, a helicopter pilot who finds himself abruptly transported to a train on its way to Chicago amid morning traffic with no memory of how he got there or the woman speaking to him. From the get-go, his character is disoriented, suffering from memory loss and plagued with a hyper vigilant state where-by he examines all of his fellow passengers without prompting. Disoriented, he tries to tell those around him that he should not be here - he is pilot who was in the middle of a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and now he has no idea how he got there. You can hear his rapid heartbeats and almost feel the heightened state of perception follow him as he makes his way to a restroom. Once there, he finds that he is staring back and a different person in the mirror: He is not the man he believes himself to be.
Even without the rest of the movie, this introduction alone tells us a lot about the themes we are about to dive into; Colter is a soldier, with severe memory loss. He cannot recognize himself in a mirror, and feels as though the mundane life onboard a morning commute is wrong or impossible. He is hyper aware of everything his fellow passengers are doing and seems to be paranoid about the behavior of those around him. Combine this with the lead in montage where we see and hear flashes of still images in Chicago and Afghanistan, combined with the distant sound of an explosion, and it is clear that Colter's character is intended to represent a soldier who has suffered from severe trauma.
After 8 minutes of watching Colter try to understand what is happening to him, he is in for another shock when he and his fellow passengers die in a massive explosion on the train. When Colter comes to this time, he finds himself in some kind of space capsule. He gains visual communication with a female soldier at some kind of base of operations. After taking him through a memory jogging thread (which appears to be a traumatic reprogramming CBT technique to get him to focus) This soldier, Goodwin, tells him that he is reliving the last 8 minutes of a different mans life, just before a traumatic explosion killed him. The goal is simple: Find the bomb, find the bomber, and keep the city of Chicago safe from a second devastating weapon of mass destruction.
At first, Colter greets this news as if he is working in a complete simulation, not believing the people around him are real. He roughs them up, scares them, and generally gets aggressive with them, displaying outward signs of mental health issues in order to try and figure out who may have set the bomb. After a series of these 8 minute interludes, he comes to learn that the people within these memories are real people who died on the train that morning, and he begins feeling morally responsible for trying to save them. Goodwin, alongside her boss, explain to Colter than there is no way to save these people, as they are only coded memories stuck inside the source code now.
What becomes interesting about each one of Colter's passes through the source code is how these 8 minutes play out: He has a lot of freedom about where he can go and what he can do, and each iteration is completely different from the last. Each time he comes out of the flashback of this other man's trauma, he has elevated heartrate, breathing and loses many of his olfactory senses as well. At least once he almost crashes after being taken out, thanks to a major change in how his death occurs in the memory (getting shot instead of dying from the explosion).
This iteration is particularly fascinating to me, as the film manages to repeat similar events throughout each iteration, but it also gives the main character freedom to change elements within specific confines. Sometimes, it is even hinted at that he exists beyond the 8 minutes he is supposed to have, and as he exists in each iterative memory, his responses change and adjust for worse and for better. It is no mistake that this train explosion mirrors his original trauma of being shot down in a flaming helicopter in Afghanistan.
The film ends with a request from Colter, that he be allowed to go back into the Source Code and try to save everyone on the train. He then asks for his life support to be terminated at the end. He believes that he will be able to stay alive through a parallel universe inside the source code, integrating with the man he is possessing - Shaun. This final run through bears an interesting resemblance to the concepts that I have discussed in my research notes, where PTSD patients must integrate newfound agency with their trauma in order to move forward. This film takes this very literally and raises the stakes as it does by forcing Colter to stop this incredibly traumatic tragedy from resemblance at all. Not only is there a bomb ready to go off, there is literally a ticking clock counting down until his death.
While the ending does wrap up in a bow a little too neat for my tastes, I have to admit, it is a new and interesting take on a traumatized character to have them go through many stages of PTSD and iterative flashback only to have them come out of the film alive, well and with a feeling of acceptance about their new situation. While Colter's life may be completely turned around in a way that never gets the attention it deserves, we do see character growth and assimilation between who the character perceives himself as and the one which the world views him as. He goes from a deep sense of depersonalization to someone who feels whole, in spite of the trauma that got him to where he is.