Go Dark, Or Go Home: A Review Of Passengers

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

We went and saw the movie Passengers last night. It looked like an interesting premise; two people woken up from hibernation on a spacecraft nearly 90 years too early, with no way to get back into their hibernation pods, doomed to live out the rest of their lives hurtling through space alone. We’d seen the previews months ago, and had both decided we really wanted to see it, but as life got busy and the rating nosedived on Rotten Tomatoes, it became something we kept deferring. Yesterday night was the final showing at our local cinema, and as we were child free, we made a last-minute decision to finally go.

The first 30 minutes of the movie were fantastic. I love Chris Pratt, and as he often does, he strung the tightrope between the incompatible towers of sexy and goofy, a thin line he has danced along expertly for most of his career. Yet here we also see him pull off dark and tortured convincingly. Despite being surrounded by thousands of people, he is alone, stranded in space, and has no means of communicating with the outside world.

Pratt’s character Jim was an engineer back on earth, but instead of this film following the standard trope where Jim’s expertise means he can formulate a solution, here his expertise means that he can unequivocally understand that he has no solution, no way out.

Wandering around in utter despair, Jim stumbles upon the pod of Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). He becomes obsessed with her, going so far as to pull her files and tapes from the ship’s log to learn more about her…a girl named Aurora sleeping under a glass capsule, Sleeping Beauty sci-fi at its finest. The problem is that unlike the traditional Sleeping Beauty who was the victim of an evil spell, this Aurora is voluntarily asleep and wishes to remain that way.

While some critics have panned the film for Jim’s decision to wake Aurora, there is nothing wrong with going dark and exploring the repercussions of his unethical decision, and at first the movie seems to do this. Aurora is understandably traumatized by the eventual realization that Jim, a man she has forged a romantic relationship with, woke her up on purpose. He handed her a death sentence after stalking her slumbering form, and deciding to ruin her future along with his. Her fury and despair are understandable, and it is satisfying to see her express that rage towards him.

My issue with the film starts with the appearance of Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a crew member whose pod also malfunctioned. While being little more than a short-lived plot vehicle to alert Jim and Aurora to the fact the ship is about to malfunction, Gus delivers a doozy when he performs a heinous act of victim blaming, basically telling Aurora she should go easy on Jim because the poor man was lonely.

As Aurora mends her relationship with Jim, it leaves the question dangling; how can you reconcile your relationship with someone who has no regard for your life? Yes, this does happen in real life, but those stories don’t often have a happily-ever-after ending like this movie does. The only way I can possibly reconcile this movie the way it stands is if they inserted a PSA for Stockholm Syndrome before the credit roll.

The sad thing is that this otherwise watchable movie got critically panned over something that could have been easily avoided. If the writers were determined to have a happily ever after romantic ending, they needed to make the actions of Jim redeemable, which they didn’t. The tragedy is that this could have been solved very simply, just by removing Jim’s intent. Jim could have still agonized over his desire to wake up Aurora, and by his constant proximity to her pod (often in an inebriated state) could have woken her by accident. Jim could have still experienced the guilt and shame at keeping the secret, and Aurora could have still experienced rage and betrayal at finding out he woke her. The movie would have still been essentially the same, but Jim’s actions could be forgiven.

Yes, his stalk-ery, obsessive behavior towards a stranger’s sleeping form would still be concerning, but the only real difference between creepy and romantic in many situations hinges purely on reciprocation.

Alternatively the movie could have stayed dark; it could have explored the unhealthy relationship that developed between the two, romantic or otherwise, and been an interesting study in human reactions.

However, we still enjoyed the movie. It just asked a little too much in an almost date rape kind of way.

Now, my husbands take:

Pros:

The ship design for the Avalon is sweet. I like the fact that the gravity hub is trisected, similar to the ancient triskelion symbol. In addition, I enjoyed the interior set designs; they were a pleasant ad mixture of art deco and sci-fi lighting.

At one point, Gus, the third passenger, states their speed: 1/10 the speed of light. That’s a cool nod to how fast we can theoretically go with current technology (actually, 1950’s technology: the engineering designs for  Project Orion, a nuclear explosion driven space-craft, go that far back.  The hypothetical speed of an Orion style craft is  0.1 c (c being the speed of light)), and yes, we could build one right now if we decided to.

Cons:

His spacesuit survived the venting of a nuclear drive? Did the writers learn nothing about breaking the suspension of disbelief when Indiana Jones survived a similar fate – by hiding in a fridge?

And with as much super-tech as they have, why don’t their suits have jet packs? We currently have thrusters on our space suits; what’s wrong with these people?!?

Of course, I’m nit-picking around the main concern, which my wife and I agree on: Aurora’s feelings for Jim swing a little too far, a little too fast. Is she a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, or just poor editing? Is there a darker story lurking inside (I would have enjoyed watching her at least considering flushing Jim out of the airlock when he went to fix the reactor), or did she really forgive him that easily for waking her before her time, thus taking her life (to use Aurora’s own words).

And to my wife’s earlier point about Sleeping Beauty, let’s consider her story for a minute. Was she, like Aurora, a victim of her Prince Charming? Was she given a say in who her true love was? There’s something a little questionable lurking under the surface of that story as well…

Questions Hollywood may will never answer…oh well.

Until the next post, sleep tight, and don’t let Jim (or anyone else who woke up too soon, no matter how Charming they are) wake you up from your Dreamtime…

 

 

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