Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen
Running time: 116 minutes
Plot Summary: Warning contains spoilers!
The spacecraft Avalon is transporting over 5,000 colonists and crew in hibernation pods to the planet Homestead II. The journey takes 120 years. The ship encounters a meteor shower only 30 years into its journey. When its hit by an asteroid a pod malfunctions and one passenger Jim Preston wakes up 90 years too early.
Jim lives alone on the ship, save for one companion a robot bartender Arthur. He tries desperately to find a way to go back to sleep but fails. He loses all hope, grows a beard, wanders around the ship as a lost castaway, gets drunk a lot, smashes up some things in anger and considers suicide.
One lonely, drunken and fraught day, Jim happens across the pod of a sleeping beauty, another passenger the writer Aurora Lane. It’s love at first site. He gets a big crush on Aurora and learns everything about her. Each ‘night’ he discusses his Aurora obsession with Arthur, debating the moral issues of waking her up. Jim could have a beautiful companion and abate his loneliness but he knows he would prevent Aurora from achieving her dream of reaching Homestead II, instead condemning her to a life and death on the ship, never arriving at her destination.
The big dilemma fraught with controversy.
Jim finds himself in a moral dilemma. The object of his dreams lies sleeping in front of him, while he is condemned to live and die desperately alone. What do you do? Wake someone and condemn them to their death? Or do you let them be, spending your life satisfyingly selfless, morally content at having done the right thing, yet hopelessly alone drifting through the cold and dark of space, destined to die alone? Its a big decision and one that Jim is clearly troubled by, but there’s never any doubt over what he’s going to do.
Passengers is a movie that the critics loved to hate. The first half of the film poses a controversial premise and provokes the audience to ask itself what would you do in this situation? Its ultimately the disturbing premise that lead to some poor reviews for Passengers ( Rotten Tomato reviews gave it a 31% on the Tomatometer). There’s no doubt that the decision debated and then acted on by its protagonist Jim to wake up Aurora, is a selfish and deceptive act and some argued tantamount to date rape, perhaps even murder. Aurora at one point screams at Jim “You took my life.” The film understandably sparked anger and even revulsion from some critics for what they considered a blatant, underlying misogyny.
Its not the dicey premise that made Passengers a much loathed film. Many movies have shitty protagonists that do terrible things that they must make amends for. In fact Jim’s dilemma and actions could have been what made Passengers a really great film. It’s controversial and it poses a question that calls for reflection – what would I do? It’s a premise that dares to question human behaviour at its most selfish and dark side in a predicament that’s plausible – manipulating someone into a relationship. After all we all want to be loved.
The films bigger sin was that it dared to provoke with a difficult, disturbing question and then quickly dropped it, instead opting for safe ground by suddenly shifting gear in the final act, turning itself from something challenging to an action “love conquers all” film. The audiences didn’t buy it. The relationship was distasteful given its flawed basis and some of the critics slammed the film for it.
Despite the film receiving many bad reviews there were still many pro’s. As per usual Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is spell binding perfection. She plays the perfect dream girl, highly sexualized, good at sports and cooking, courageous, determined, intelligent, independent but not too independent that she can’t be forgiving of all your biggest flaws such as being a stalker. There are plenty of films that have done this previously (think Twilight and its totally creepy yet idolized stalker, vampire Edward).
Chris Pratt does a good job at playing a cute, dopey prat (sorry, mechanic). He’s wholesome and really good at making and fixing things. Together the two characters Jim and Aurora sizzle despite the disturbing premise. In the good times on the ship, before Aurora finds out what Jim did, they have a saucy love affair and they enjoy the luxuriousness of their designer spaceship and they clearly enjoy each others company (although as there’s only two of them there’s not much choice).
Aurora shows a fashionable disdain toward the corporate enterprise that owns the ship. There’s an underlying commentary on social class relations (she gets eggs & bacon from the breakfast dispenser machine, he gets sloppy porridge). Their only other companion is Michael Sheen whose performance as Arthur the anthropomorphic android is flawless. He’s super slick and a little creepy and serves as a useful sounding board for Jim and Auroras qualms.
The sets and production design of the spaceship Avalon are gratifying. Passengers was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for best production design. All of the action takes place on or just outside the designer spacecraft. Who wouldn’t consider abandoning earth to live and wander through the ships polished perfected corridors and compartments with lush lighting? You could eat off the floor on the spaceship Avalon and it would probably taste delicious.
Passengers is a watchable blockbuster with a great first 2/3’s that unfortunately devolves into something frustrating. I so wanted to like this film and for the most part I did. Its individual parts demonstrate greatness but the sum of its parts adds up to something less.
Rating: 4/5 for the first 2 acts, 2/5 for the last act.