Director: Morten Tyldum (Headhunters, The Imitation Game).
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia.
Here’s a quick plot breakdown. Passengers on the spaceship Avalon are on a 125-year journey to the planet Homestead II. They spend the majority of that time in suspended animation in order to preserve themselves, enabling them to continue enjoying their lives when they finally arrive at their destination. Part way through this journey, something goes wrong, and engineer Jim Parsons (Chris Pratt) is woken 90 years early, with no way of returning to sleep.
Fortunately, Jim is on a spaceship with plenty of amenities to enjoy; he can go dancing, drinking, play some basketball and so on. His sole companion is an android bartender called Arthur (Michael Sheen). Eventually, almost a year after what is essentially solitary confinement, Jim can’t take it anymore but just as he’s given up hope, he stumbles upon Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), sleeping peacefully in suspended animation.
Now, this is the point where many viewers and critics lost faith in the film. It’s not a twist, it happens fairly shortly toward the beginning of the film. But, after spending so long by himself and contemplating his existence, Jim intentionally wakes her up. Which is really at this point in the film, a death sentence.
Is this creepy? Is it selfish? Would I have done the same? No idea, I’ve not been in that situation and I’m very likely never going to end up in it. Before deciding to wake up her, Jim goes through all of her personal information. It’s the equivalent of Facebook stalking someone. Jim watches her videos and learns of her dreams and aspirations, falling in love as he consumes every bit of detail about her.
But as viewers wrestle the morality of this action, the film skips over it for the most part. Jim pretends that Aurora was woken up accidentally, just like him, and they share this demise together. Eventually, the film has a brief conversation about Jim’ actions, Aurora gets mad, he gets sad. However, there’s no real in-depth discussion of the consequences of what is essentially a death sentence. It sucks for Jim, but what happened to him was an accident. His decision to wake up Aurora was made consciously and for his own needs.
Instead Aurora just has to suck it up and carry on for the sake of advancing the plot. But for many viewers, like myself, it’s hard to escape the fact that this situation exists because Jim was lovesick and wanted a playmate. Films need tension, but Passengers could have handled a conflict between the two leads much in a much more interesting and less creepy way.
Setting that aside, just as the film does, we’re treated to a couple visual spectacles, the obligatory zero gravity sequence being one of them, with the added twist of a swimming pool. Thomas Newman’s score is also impressive, adding much-needed depth to an incredibly thin script. Laurence Fishburne makes an appearance in the third act, injecting some excitement into the film, but not enough to save it from the vacuum of space.
Passengers is a film that feels like it glorifies Stockholm syndrome, as Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence prance around a large shopping mall set in space, trying to forget their impending doom. Michael Sheen’s performance as an android is ironically the only part of the film where it feels alive. This space opera is actually more boring than an opera set in space, with no sound. And no performance. And no people. Because they’re dead. Because they’re playing opera without any spacesuits.
Feature image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.