Source Code (2011), directed by Duncan Jones

 As the years go by, I have become more conscious of time. I count my minutes. It is a mantra that I share with my students as well. When I begin the school year, I inform them that there are two rules in my class: do your best and don’t hurt other people. This means do not prevent other students from learning. When a student talks without raising his hand, when he interrupts another student who has the floor, he is, in effect, preventing other pupils from learning. Furthermore, he is stealing precious time from class, preventing me from maximizing class time for teaching. I tell students that I count my minutes because time is precious. A minute can be an eternity. Consider for a moment the two-minute warning in a professional football game. Destinies can change in a matter of seconds.

This is one of the themes of Source Code, a science-fiction thriller cast in the present, which describes a bold and innovative attempt to avoid a major disaster by injecting a person into a continuum of events eight minutes before one calamity strikes in the hope of averting a second disaster in the future. Sounds weird? It is, but it also provides a meditation on what living in the moment really means. Amazing things can happen if one is aware of the consequences of each passing minute. Source Code reminds us that the same basic events can be experienced in different ways if we will it so, if we truly understand the consequences of each one of our actions.

The movie also addresses a seminal question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another: “What would you do if you knew you had less than a minute to live?” The question forces us to focus on the present moment. Will it be our last? The Ethics of the Fathers, an example of classical Jewish wisdom literature, does not ask that question, but it does suggest a similar mindset.  We are advised by the Rabbis to think of every day as potentially the last day of our lives. This is not to encourage pessimism or depression, but to spur man on to live life to the fullest, to make every day count, to make each day meaningful.

There is a corollary to understanding the value of time. If there is enmity or ill will between friends, between spouses, between parent and child, reconciliation is a priority. Time does not allow for a slow resolution to conflict. In Source Code, this desire for reconciliation finds expression in the fractured relationship of the hero, Captain Colter Stevens played by Jake Gyllenhaal, to his father. Their last conversation was difficult and strained; but now both want to be at peace with one another. Both want emotional wholeness. Colter Stevens now understands, in his heightened state of awareness somewhere between life and death, that if he knew when he spoke with his father that it would be their last communication, he would not have argued with him. He would not want to leave a legacy of bad feelings between them. He would want to tell his father that he loved him just as his father would want to reaffirm his love for his son in any time of crisis.  Facing death also gives Colter a greater appreciation of life. He looks around and remarks “Such a beautiful day.” He sees people laughing and it makes him treasure moments of happiness.

Source Code demonstrates the power of a minute. It implicitly implores us not to waste time, our most valuable commodity, and to repair our damaged relationships without delay.

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