Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen
Running time: 116 minutes
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, loses all hope, grows a beard, wanders around the ship, gets drunk a lot, breaks things and considers suicide. One day he happens across the pod of a sleeping beauty, another passenger, the writer Aurora Lane. Jim gets a big crush on Aurora, learns everything about her and each ‘night’ 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.
So what to do when the object of your dreams lies sleeping in front of you, while you are condemned to live and die desperately alone? Do you wake them, condemning them to their death or do you spend 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.
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 of Passengers ( Rotten Tomato reviews gave it a 31% on the Tomatometer). The film understandably sparked anger and even revulsion from some critics for a blatant, underlying misogyny. There’s no doubt that the decision debated, and then acted on by its protagonist Jim, to wake up Aurora, is a selfish, deceptive act, and some argued tantamount to date rape, perhaps even murder. Aurora at one point screams at Jim “you took my life.” But the dicey premise in itself, doesn’t make Passengers a bad 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 good film. Its controversial, poses a question that makes a viewer take a closer look at oneself and to reflect, what would I do? Its a premise that dares to question human behaviour at its most selfish and dark side in a predicament that’s seemingly plausible, i.e 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 second half, and turning itself from something challenging, to an action, “love conquers all” film. The audiences didn’t buy it. The relationship that followed was thoroughly unbelievable and distasteful given its flawed basis and some of the critics slammed the film for it.
Despite the film receiving bad reviews from a lot of critics, there are many pro’s to the film. The performances are exceptional. As per usual Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is spell binding perfection. Her performance as Aurora is brilliant. She plays the perfect dream girl, highly sexualized, good at sports and cooking, courageous, determined, intelligent, independent but not too much 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 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 interlude and enjoy the luxuriousness of their designer spaceship and they clearly enjoy each others company (although there’s not much choice). Both Jim and Aurora show appropriate 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. Their thoughts are revealed in their conversations with Arthur.
The sets and production design of the Avalon are amazing. Passengers was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for best production design. All of the action takes place on or just outside the designer spacecraft. No one wouldn’t consider abandoning earth to live and wander through its polished perfected corridors and compartments with lush lighting. You could eat off the floor on the spaceship Avalon and it would taste delicious.
Passengers is a watchable blockbuster, with a great first half, 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 half, 2/5 for the second half.