The title "Source Code" does fit the movie, and here's why:

posted Jun 3, 2013, 11:49 PM by Jenee Pearson Hughes   [ updated Jun 4, 2013, 12:36 AM ]
Source Code has an awesome DVD case cover
(The alternate title of this thought : "An over-thought defense of the title of the movie 'Source Code' ")

"Source Code" is the second directorial offering from Duncan Jones*, whose freshman offering was the FANTASTIC "Moon."  

It is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, and everyone I've talked to agrees with me on that. 

However, they often add the caveat: "But the title makes no sense. It's technobabble. Just ignore it."

I'm here to change your world, ladies: The title DOES make sense.  And I'm going to explain it to you.  

(There WILL BE SPOILERS ahead. Actually, it's all pretty much spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie, but plan to, don't read this. Unless you're cool with spoilers, I guess.)

The Necessary Programming Vocab

For those of you not familiar with programming terminology, get ready for a crash course! When programmers create software, they do so by writing source code (lower-case).  This source code is the set of programmer-readable instructions that says how to build the program, and what it should do. The source code is the recipe, or the blueprint, for the finished application. 

When the source code is finished, the computer compiles the source code into something called a binary**. This binary is a machine-readable version of the human-readable instructions found in the original source code.  

To go back to our source-code-as-a-recipe metaphor: If the source code was the recipe, then the binary is the food that results when you follow the recipe. You can follow the recipe as many times as you like, and so you can have as much food as you'd like, but it's all the same.

If the recipe metaphor doesn't float your boat, the source-code-as-a-blueprint metaphor is just as, if not more, valid: given a blueprint, a set of contractors can build a house to specifications. In fact, they can build many houses, all the same, just with one blueprint. 

Now, a programmer would normally uses source code to create binaries. However, with much difficulty, one can reverse-engineer a binary to see the underlying source code. This is generally a very difficult task, but it is possible.  Think of it this way: a good cook can sometimes figure out a recipe to a food that they've eaten, though it may take some trial and error. And there is an entire profession whose job it is to create blueprints for already-existing buildings!

How these programming concepts apply to the movie

Okay. So. Here's how the movie "Source Code" actually fits its name.

The life you're living right now? The moment that you're in? That's the binary.  You know what's happening, and you can interact with it, but you don't fully grasp the underlying mechanics and cause and effect of the world around you.

The movie asks us to accept the premise that the world around us is a binary, generated by some underlying "source code" that gives the world instructions on how the course of history should go.  

The shadowy government agency in the film sort of figured this out. They figured out that they were living in a binary, and some crazy-smart guy figured out how to reverse engineer the "binary" of a moment in time to get the "source code" underneath.  

They don't quite realize that what they've got is "source code". They think that they're just looking back in time--that the "source code" they found is no more than an exhaustive time capsule. Instead, the source code contains all the instructions required to put a new universe in motion. After all, to bake a batch of cookies from scratch, one must first create the universe.  

Once they had the reverse-engineered source code, they presumably figured out some way to tweak the time parameter in the program, to rewind it a bit.  Let's just say that the derived source code requires you to supply a "time" argument, and it can be whatever point in the past that you want it to be. 

When a terrible attack occurs, the scientists change the "time" value in the source code, and then--they compile a new binary.  

But, instead of just getting to relive the past, each time they create a new binary out of their source code (i.e. each time they send him back in time), they're creating an entirely new universe , parallel to the "prime" universe. 

Mr Gyllenhaal figures this out, and that's why he goes into that last timeline to save people. So he can be a hero in one binary of the world, and live a normal life. He exists in that life independently of the "prime" universe, because the newly-compiled universes are entirely self-sustaining. 

So. Now you know. NOW YOU UNDERSTAND. Now you can stop complaining about the title of the movie, okay? It's not techno-babble; it's REALLY well-thought-out, and it's technically sound fictional metaphor.

* Fun fact: Duncan Jones's birthname is Zowie Bowie. Yes, he's David Bowie's son. But with a name like that, you'd change it too, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a director.

**The term "binary" has multiple meanings in computer science.  In this particular case, we're talking about an executable,  binary file. Binary is also a counting system, and the language that computers speak. If you want to learn more about those, check out the Wikipedia disambiguation page: