In Source Code (2011), At the beginning of the movie, Capt. Stevens looks in the train bathroom mirror and sees Sean Fentress, a teacher, who's identity he has been assigned within the Source Code. However, to himself, he still appears to be Capt. Coulter Stevens, due to his physical mind projecting himself into his Source Code consciousness.

In his last "mission" into the Source Code, Capt. Stevens successfully established an alternate timeline. There is a brief scene at the end, showing him and Christina in front of Cloud Gate. As the camera pans away, the viewer can see that Capt. Steven's reflection shows that of Sean Fentress, as it did in the train. However, in the final scene, Capt. Goodwin is shown looking at Stevens' mutilated body, indicating that Stevens still exists as an Air Force officer in the alternate timeline. If Stevens truly created an alternate history in which he is Sean Fentress, why are his appearance and reflection still at odds? He is no longer "plugged in", and in a real sense no longer has any connection to the Stevens in the new timeline (who is back in the facility). At that point, Stevens' consciousness is back at the lab in his body. Fentress is not Stevens-in-Fentress, he's just Fentress.


2 Answers 2


TLDR Stevens's consciousness is transferred to Fentress's body. For the sake of story telling consistency, the audience always sees Stevens's face, but we see the reflection of Fentress to show us this is how he appears to the people in the flashbacks/alternate timelines.

The key piece to understanding the movie is that Source Code works differently than intended. This is fully explained at the very end in the email that Stevens sends to Goodwin:

If you're reading this email then Source Code works even better than you and Dr. Rutledge imagined. You thought you were creating 8 minutes of a past event, but you're not. You've created a whole new world. Goodwin, if I'm right, somewhere at the Source Code facility, you have a Capt. Colter Stevens waiting to send on a mission. Promise me you'll help him. And when you do, do me a favor. Tell him everything is going to be okay.

So every time Stevens "flashes back", his consciousness is really just jumping into another reality, and landing in Fentress's body. In all but the final case, when Fentress dies, Stevens's consciousness returns to Stevens's body in the original time line.

Before or after Stevens's body is taken off life support is irrelevant to Stevens's identity in the alternate time lines. His body being taken off life support only means that when Fentress dies, Stevens's consciousness will have nowhere to "return"; so Stevens's consciousness would effectively die then, too.


Let's say we are going with the assumption that the alternative timeline does exist.

Every time Captain Stevens jumps into the "Source Code" (or in this case the alternate timeline), he jumps in as Sean Fentress. To anyone else in this timeline, he is Sean Fentress. To the audience he is Stevens acting as Sean Fentress. The audience is seeing the scene through Captain Stevens' perspective.

The last mission timeline is as follows (where A is the first timeline, B is the generated)

A.Fentress -----------------------------------------|
A.Stevens  ------(1)-------(2)---------(5)          |
A.Vera     ----------------------------(4)----------|
B.Fentress ------(1)-------(2)---(3)---(6)----------|
B.Stevens  -------------------------------------(1')|
B.Vera     --------------------------------(7)------|

(1) Stevens becomes Fentress in B timeline
(2) Stevens disarms the bomb in B timeline
(3) Stevens sends the email in B timline
(4) Vera unplugs Steven in A timeline
(5) Stevens is dead in A timeline
(6) Stevens kiss Christina in B timeline
(7) Vera receives the email in B timeline

The reflection we are seeing is no different from the first time we saw the reflection. Stevens has jumped into Sean's character/body/mind. For the whole they showed us to him as Captain Miller. Thus if there is any discontinuity it would have to be at 4,5,6. In this scene we should have seen Sean Fentress displayed but we still ending up seeing Stevens (even after he was unplugged).

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    @Unsigned Correct. He is not Stevens anymore, I am not sure how else to explain in it other than an oversight by the movie team. This change definitely was not made clear that he is no longer Stevens.
    – phwd
    Dec 6, 2011 at 2:32
  • He was still Stevens, though. He was the consciousness of Stevens, permanently (rather than temporarily, as before) transferred to Fentress.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 6, 2011 at 2:37
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    @Flimzy we (the audience) should have seen Fentress at 4,5,6 to make it clear that this is no longer being thought of as Stevens in place of Fentress but Fentress with the permanent imprint of Stevens. Stevens the identity no longer exists, he is Fentress to everyone else from now on.
    – phwd
    Dec 6, 2011 at 7:09
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    @Flimzy Oh, I was referring the 4,5,6 events in the timeline above. Sorry about that. I guess difference in interpretation comes from the disconnect there. What actually happens to someone when they are disconnected from the Source code and life support? What does the freeze at the kiss represent? A lag in the program?
    – phwd
    Dec 6, 2011 at 7:32
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    I took the 'frozen kiss' just as a dramatic representation of Stevens's anticipation; not knowing if he would survive to the next second. But... we do know there can be glitches in the program... because in one flashback, Stevens's surroundings started to fall apart, and appeared digitized, etc..
    – Flimzy
    Dec 6, 2011 at 16:27

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