Why Source Code is a stupid movie title

Have you guys see the trailers for that new Jake Gyllenhaal movie titled Source Code? Groansworthy, isn’t it? I mean, not the trailer, the title. Although the trailer doesn’t look that hot either. People are trying to tell me it is made by the same folks that made Moon which was brilliant, but… I just don’t know. It looks too much like a summer pulp flick for my tastes, though maybe it is just shoddy marketing trailer aimed at the anti-intellectual neanderthals that are apparently the target demographic for every movie ever these days.

I wanted to talk about the title though, and how I think it is the worst movie title I have ever seen. I’m serious. I previously held that “The Attack of the Clones” was the worst one just because how clumsy it was. Especially since George Lucas could have easily opted to call it “Clone Wars”. Source Code however is bad just because how abysmally stupid it is. I just can’t help but groan every time I see it. But you know what is the worst part? No one knows why I’m groaning.

Granted, I did not expect the god damned techno-muggles that I meet and greet in meat-space to get this. I learned long time ago never to expect anything from them. Good people, most of them, but they seem to be mentally are stuck in some alternate reality where technology does not shape every aspect of their life. I just assume they are “Charlies” and remind myself to speak slowly, and not to use big words. But then I went on the internet, and half the people there were like “who cares, I’m not a programmer HERP DERP DERP”.

God damn it, how do you get on the internet and not know what source code is. Oh wait, never mind. It’s in that nursery rhyme:

Remember, remember, Eternal September… Intelligence and reason was lost.

Anyways, this is sort of why I decided that it is up to me to enlighten the washed and unwashed masses about this movie title. So the rest of this post will be me, trying to talk down to cybermuggles trying to make them understand where I’m coming from. Please bear with me (grizzly, but you can do polar if that’s your preference) as I switch into luser linguistic mode:

oh hai i wanted to tell u bout this movie titel source code cause lol its like stupil lol alot of u don t kno but i will xplain it real simple like

u may think that source code be only for they nerd with they thik glasses but if u…

Ok, fuck it. I can’t do it. I’ll just write normally and hope they understand. I will also attempt to use logic, which is pretty much a lost cause. Lusers don’t know about logic. But maybe I can amuse some regular readers in the process.

I guess the key to understand why the movie title is stupid, is understand what exactly is source code. In layman’s terms, it’s basically what programmers write to create software. So if you are a software developer, you probably go to work in the morning, sit in your cubicle, open a text editor such as vi…. Wait no.. What is a text editor that a clueless person would use? Oh, I know: Notepad. So you open Notepad and start typing in commands – like pages, upon pages of that stuff. It’s all text, and it does not do anything at all yet. You can copy and paste it into email, post it on a website, etc… It is text, and nothing but text.

That’s source code. Textual list of commands that will tell the machine what to do. But on it’s own the source code does nothing. You usually have to run it through a special program known as a compiler, in order to transform it into a usable application. Think of the compiler as a black box that makes magic happen: you feed text on one end and an application comes out on the other side. Then you sell that application or upload it to the interwebs for people to download, and you keep the source code somewhere safe (safest place is the internet of course – let other people back it up for you) in case you want to modify it and release an updated version of the app later.

Now in this movie, Source Code seems to be a name of some super-advanced and magical computer simulation system. They upload Jake Gyllenhaal into it, and he can re-experience some catastrophic train accident Groundhog Day style. Which makes absolutely no sense, considering the fact that source code is just text. How do you upload someone into a text file? How does a text file do anything?

It seems that the creators of this movie just grabbed a random expression from the computer jargon and decided to use it in their movie. But they didn’t bother looking up what it meant so they just made stuff up.

How about this: imagine that instead of calling it “Source Code” they instead titled the movie “Excel Spreadsheet” or “Email Attachment”. Everyone knows what these things are, right? If you don’t, please raise your hand so that the snipers on the roof can identify you and remove you from the gene pool. Thank you for your cooperation, and have a nice day.

The point is that excel spreadsheet or email attachment is just a thing. It’s just an electronic file, that contains some data but it does not do anything by itself. That data may be useful to someone, and it may model something abstract (like payroll information, or a business plan) but it does not do anything. It does not process information, and you cannot upload someone’s mind into it.

If you saw a movie titled “Email Attachment” you would probably think that it was about some important attachment, right? Someone attaches some crazy document into an email, it leaks out to the internet an now that person is in trouble. Something like that, right? That’s exactly what I thought when I saw the title. I thought it would be about programmers – potentially about someone stealing some very secret source code or something. I did not expect it to be the Groundhog Day loop movie at all.

Sure, you can name your super-secret computer system whatever you want. You can name it Bob or Daisy, or Pet Hamster. But why give it a generic name for a specific type of electronic file. Even if you liked the term “source code” you could have shortened it a bit and still be fine. “Source” by itself for example sounds great – it ambiguous, has some technology annotations but there is more to it. Same with “Code” – you could probably get away with that too. But put the two of them together and suddenly your title sucks.

That’s why I think this title is stupid, and so should you, now that I explained it. If you still don’t get it, please raise your hand right now so that the snipers on the rooftops can… Well, you know the drill.

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13 Responses to Why Source Code is a stupid movie title

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    My favorite part of that trailer is when the expert says “it doesn’t work like that” and the guy insisted he’d find a way. That’s exactly on point with your Charlie & the Car analogy. How many times has someone said something utterly nonsensical, like I’m trying to change my IP to avoid spam, and refused to believe you when you told them they’re talking impossibilities.

    The trailer also looked absurd. Reminded me of this article, about why America doesn’t make good movies anymore, or at least rarely. This movie is original, and not like this summer’s lineup:

    With that in mind, let’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

    However the movie, according to the trailer, still falls into one of the Bruckheimer traps:

    “high-concept” blockbuster—films for which the trailer or even the tagline told the story instantly. At their most basic, their movies weren’t movies; they were pure product—stitched-together amalgams of amphetamine action beats, star casting, music videos, and a diamond-hard laminate of technological adrenaline all designed to distract you from their lack of internal coherence, narrative credibility, or recognizable human qualities.

    Also, yes it is a dumb name – a specific term co-opted into meaning something totally different. But that’s pretty common in movies, just the term here is computer related. I groaned when I first heard of a movie about alternate reality named “the matrix.”

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  2. Zack UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    hahahaha i’m sooo glad you posted this! During my poker game last night I saw this trailer for the first time and a truly WTF-esque moment! Loved the rant, couldn’t have said it better myself.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Actually, compiled code is also just text, list of commands, just translated and optimized in a language the OS and hardware comprehend. I’d say source code is much more important than the executable (provided it compiles), since you can do anything it does by building it, but also apply your own changes to the behavior of the program, and search for vulnerabilities much faster.

    I agree Source Code as a title for an action flick about reliving the past is rather stupid, but it’d fit quite good on a action movie about corporation espionage or military satellite takeover, provided the theft (with excruciatingly slow copy progress bar to build suspense) and delivery (with car chases) of said code is the main action of the film.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    jambarama wrote:

    My favorite part of that trailer is when the expert says “it doesn’t work like that” and the guy insisted he’d find a way. That’s exactly on point with your Charlie & the Car analogy. How many times has someone said something utterly nonsensical, like I’m trying to change my IP to avoid spam, and refused to believe you when you told them they’re talking impossibilities.

    OMG, yes!

    I had a guy actually ask me to set up a new email for him, and then automatically forward all of his old emails to the new one to “avoid spam”. I tried explaining that this won’t do anything, but he insisted I do it anyway. And then he complained that he is still getting spam. Cause you know, there has to be a way to do this.

    Of course he was getting so much spam because he insisted that we make an exception for him on the server side spam filter because one time some important email got snagged by it.

    Oh, and good article.

    As for “matrix”, it is a fairly ambiguous term. The actual meaning largely depends whether you are talking about a mathematical concept, biological cellular glue, technical term used in chemical analysis, one of the functional parts of the human hair, typesetting mold or a specific technique of audio decoding. Clearly it is a very popular term.

    The term “matrix” it is usually used to denote some sort of enclosure, base, mold, etc. I believe it’s latin root means womb. So I think the title works pretty well with the theme of the movie. The machines use the human farms as a power grid (matrix), human minds are trapped in a virtual enclosure (also matrix) and their bodies reside in mechanical wombs. Maybe I’m looking to much into it, but it seems like it might have been very carefully and thoughtfully picked title.

    @ Zel:

    I agree, source code is more important/interesting/valuable than the executable but it is fairly useless without a working compiler/interpreter. You have to build it for it to do anything practical. Source is an idea, the compiled binary is the execution of thereof.

    Zel wrote:

    It’d fit quite good on a action movie about corporation espionage or military satellite takeover, provided the theft (with excruciatingly slow copy progress bar to build suspense) and delivery (with car chases) of said code is the main action of the film.

    That’s actually exactly what I expected when I read about “this new movie from the makers of the Moon called source code”.

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  5. Martinho Fernandes PORTUGAL Google Chrome Windows says:

    Actually, you can upload your mind into an Excel spreadsheet (well, provided you can upload your mind into a computer, at least). That’s what macros are for! Oh, and viruses too.

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  6. rev UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    maybe the source code is perl. you don’t need a compiler for perl. hehe.

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  7. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    I don’t really agree with the sub-discussion about what source code “is”. You’re saying “It is text, and nothing but text.” and make the case the source code in itself is “dead” compared to compiled code. I don’t really agree. In principle they are the same. Source code is more abstract and human-readable and the conversion usually just goes one way. But the basic principle that the code needs a “black box” (whether that be a compiler, software interpreter or hardware interpreter, most often a CPU) still applies.

    I’m assuming that the movie title, and in extension the naming of the program/project/whatever within the movie, is named so because they’re using some form of code to find the source of some sort of information. That’s the ambiguity at hand.

    So, it’s named “Source Code”. You expected something else? Too bad. Movies like this one are not made for programmers, but for some subsection of the general public. As with many genres, if you’re a professional in the field that is being portrayed (or live in a country that is being portrayed, if the movie is set some “exotic” country, etc.) , it’s more difficult to let suspension of disbelief kick in.

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  8. Alex UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Of course there might be a splash of irony in the fact that the owner of a website called “terminally incoherent” is arguing that choosing “source code” as a movie named is bad or annoying. It’s just a name, right?

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  9. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Alex:
    What do you mean? “Terminally incoherent” is the awesomest name ever.

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  10. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Maybe I’m taking the concept of ‘benefit of doubt’ to unhuman lengths here, but perhaps rather than assume that the people behind this are all trolling us with a gigantic “F**ing source code, how does it work?”, maybe we should wait with the judging until we seen more than a trailer?

    All the woman says is “A secret program called `the source code’ will send you back in time to relive the last 8 minutes of a passenger’s life on that train.” This may at first sound like gobbledygook, but I am pretty sure she does not mean “program” as in ‘computer program’, but as in ‘research program’.

    This research program, “the source code”, seems concerned with unraveling the mysteries of time and space. Maybe what they have found is connected to digital physics and the idea of the universe as a gigantic computational engine. When trying to understand the strange physics connected to this, and when trying to alter the very programming of our world, what would be a good name for that research program? It wouldn’t seem off to talk about “understanding the source code of the universe”, and then shorten it off as “the source code”.

    So, there you have it. There is a research program called “the source code”. They have figured out how to read/write “the source code of the universe”, and some type of machine use this knowledge to alter the execution of the universe. Rewatch the trailer with this interpretation in mind; is the name still so bad?

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  11. @ Tino:

    Nope. This movie is stupid.


    Watch this clip. Someone says “charge the drivers” to Michael Bolton from Office Space who then does the movie thing where they type on a keyboard and make graphical things squiggle on a screen.

    WTF indeed.

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  12. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Adam N. Copeland wrote:

    @ Tino:
    Watch this clip. Someone says “charge the drivers” to Michael Bolton from Office Space who then does the movie thing where they type on a keyboard and make graphical things squiggle on a screen. WTF indeed.

    I’m not sure you understand what “benefit of doubt” means. Rather than trying to find faults, perhaps it is better to start from the assumption that the dialog is supposed to make sense? Hence, I don’t think “driver” was meant as “software driver”. What I heard was rather an instruction for starting up some kind of mechanical driver or driver circuit which is needed for the “universe reprogramming” process. As for the white blinking dots: Have you seen research-quality code? I have, and cryptic blinking white dots are not unthinkable when scientists write UI to be used by other scientists… If you want “stupid movie UI”, that is not it, this is it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUJFOuHIS4Q

    I don’t know why I am putting so much work into defending this movie. For all I know it will indeed be stupid when it is released. I guess I just like to argue on the Internet. :)

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  13. kogn FINLAND Safari Mac OS says:

    @ Zel: I agree for the most part, but being a security researcher myself, I disagree about what you said about finding vulnerabilities with source code is faster. Finding a good part of them is an arduous task with just the source available (even with automated white-box tools), I’d say close to impossible.

    But your criticism about compiled code is something that caught my eye as well. There is nothing magical about compilers and they are not designed to just accept text and output an application either.

    Source code can be a huge number of things and even though I haven’t seen the movie yet, I don’t think it’s automatically a stupid title. I think it has some philosophical qualities to it. The concept of source code is an attempt to formalize communication, so that a machine can interpret and execute it. It is kind of like an archetype of discussion and a way to transfer a concept to execution.

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