Passengers: Ethical And Technical Issues

The movie Passengers came out last week to mixed audience reactions and tepid critical response–neither good signs for highly bankable movie stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  A few of the Geeks saw the film and had a chatroom discussion.  Because the movie can’t really be discussed without spoilers, not only am I giving you a GIANT SPOILER WARNING RIGHT HERE but after the break I’m also going to describe the plot for anyone who doesn’t want to see the movie but wants in on the chat.  Ready to proceed?  Okay.

Chris Pratt is a passenger on a spaceship to Homestead II, a distant colony world that takes the ship he and 5,000+ other people are on 120 years to go one way.  Everyone is put into hibernation and woken up 4 months before landing so they can meet each other, learn about the new colony, and also relax a little (according to how much they paid) before starting a new life on a new planet.

Unfortunately, Jim (Pratt) wakes up due to a computer glitch after only 30 years.  It’s a life sentence because although the ship carries tons of equipment and replacement parts, it does not have the technology to put people back in hibernation.  So Jim is forced to live the rest of his life alone on a ship.  After a year of boredom, Jim goes a bit bonkers.  During a drunken episode he happens upon another pod with a hibernating woman: Aurora (Lawrence).

Aurora is a writer, Jim learns by looking her up on the computer.  He reads her works, watches her interviews, and convinces himself he’s in love with Aurora.  Even against the advice of a limited programming robot bartender, Jim wakes up Aurora by causing a glitch in her pod.  She wakes up and soon discovers her life is not what she expected.  She’s actually a well-off writer–her plan was to fly to Homestead II, live there a year, then fly back to Earth.  Now she won’t even make half the journey.

Aurora and Jim eventually start dating and things seem to be going well until, whoopse, Aurora finds out that Jim woke her up.  She wants nothing to do with him and they live separate lives on the ship.  But then things start to go wrong–food dispensors break, small helper robots malfunction, elevators get stuck, and a third person is awake.  This time it’s Morpheus (Laurence Fishburn) who is a crew member and has special access to the ship.  But his hibernation pod was really, really broken so he dies before they can fix the ship.  He figures out what Jim did and gives Aurora a little speech about how drowning men want to take others down with them so you can’t really blame Jim, right?

Jim and Aurora find out the fusion reactor that powers the ship is damaged.  They find a replacement part but now need to vent the overheating plasma into space and the door is jammed.  Jim must open it from the outside.  Aurora, angry at Jim for robbing her of the life she planned, is now desperate to not be alone and pleads with Jim to make it back safely.  They vent the plasma but Jim is blown into space–Aurora leaps into space in her own spacesuit to save him and they make it back.

Inside, Jim reveals that with the new access given by dead Morpheus’ badge/bracelet, they can use previously unavailable technology in the Auto-Doc pod.  This includes a hibernation mode.  But although this is a giant ship with over 5,000 people, there’s only one Auto-Doc so they both can’t go to sleep.  Jim offers the pod to Aurora, she turns him down and they live their live on the ship much to the surprise of the crew who wake up 90 years later to discover the remnants of Jim and Aurora’s life on the ship.

Good, you’re all caught up.  Here’s the chat with myself, Watson, and Tom.

Ryan: Here’s the thing, I can’t get over how creepy this relationship ends up being. I get Jim’s situation, but the choice he makes is monstrous. He knows it, although I wasn’t wild about him muttering “Don’t do this” while he’s doing it. I think Chris Pratt is too likable to play the role as creepy as it could have been. (Think of the guy opposite Jason Bateman in The Gift, it could have been that.) After they saved the ship and he discovered the Auto-Doc can put one person in suspended animation, Aurora should have been “Fantastic!” as she leaps into the tube and waits for him to push the button. Because he’s a stalker and a monster and she shouldn’t have fallen back for him in the worst of movie cliches.

Tom: I wrote up a review with a lot of my own thoughts, but to summarize, I agree with most of what Ryan says. I think there was a moment when Aurora realized she might be left alone and she saw the choice Jim made, but that still doesn’t make what he did acceptable. I understand he was going stir crazy from a lack of human contact, that it would seem to make sense that he would choose an attractive woman to wake up, and I can even, up to a point, understand she opted to stay awake at least to keep him from going insane again. But to slip back into the romantic relationship that quickly made no sense.

It reminded me of Revenge of the Nerds where it’s OK to commit sexual assault if you’re good at sex. So, it’s OK to basically ruin someone’s life by deciding you need company if you’re handsome, charming, and other generally good qualities.

Ryan: The hardcore ending is having Aurora watch while Jim kills himself (or she kills him), then she goes into the Auto-Doc. Because she can’t trust him to live out his life without doing this to someone else.

Tom: Question: could she activate the Auto-Doc herself from the inside?

Ryan: The tablet had an arm.
She hits the button from inside. No biggee.

Tom: Might be making an assumption there. But the point stands.

Ryan: And I know it’s hard to create perfectly plausible scenarios here, but it was a bit too far into the Land of Nope to think that on this MASSIVE ship with tons of empty space they didn’t include any hibernation tech? Or only ONE Auto-Doc? We know money is not a limiting factor for the Homestead Corporation. And they put in replacements for everything, Jim said. They even had a replacement part for the reactor–and yet the computer didn’t have an option to wake someone up to install said replacement part if the ship is about to go boom. Because waking up someone is killing them. Unless you put in a hibernation pod or another Auto-Doc or whatever.

Oh, and why wasn’t this Auto-Doc suspension an option for Morpheus?

Tom: Too convenient.

Between this and Batsoup, it has not been a good year for Laurence Fishburn.

Ryan: Morpheus.

Don’t use his Machine name.

Tom: He would have been in the land of Morpheus if that pod hadn’t malfunctioned at the best time.

Total plot device of a character.

Ryan: Yeah, a bad one. Systems everywhere are failing…and only the BEST POD POSSIBLE fails.

Tom: Well, from an actor’s perspective, he got off better than Andy Garcia. He didn’t even have any lines.

Ryan: Do you think Andy Garcia went into the pod with that beard or was that a malfunction?

Tom: I think he went in expecting more screen time considering he got his name in the closing credits. Did better than Anna Paquin did in Days of Future Past though.

Ryan: The sad thing is, I think they could have made a movie about the same moral dilemma without it being as creepy. Like if those two really were woken up by mistake and then they had to choose to wake up a scientist who may or may not know about hibernation.Maybe even Jim liked how Aurora looked and hit on her

Maybe even Jim liked how Aurora looked and hit on her in the launch station. She avoided him but he made sure to get the pod next to her. So there can be some tension between them, but not have their relationship based on him stalking her and sentencing her to death.

See, I love that part of science fiction. The part that lets us explore ethical choices that don’t currently exist. Like Jim’s choice–that really is an interesting one, but not as the FOUNDATION OF A ROMANCE. His question of wishing someone to join you on the deserted island is fascinating given his situation. But having that be a romance makes it instantly, unforgivably, 100% Creepsville and he’s the goddamn mayor.

Tom: See, that I can agree with. I mean, if she woke up accidentally like he did, or he did something that woke her up early and they gradually found love in a shared misery, I could buy that.

And in many ways, this was a beautifully put together film, Lawrence and Pratt are both charming, the direction as assured, but because of this one HUGELY problematic element, it makes all the other issues more blatant, like the cliched nature of parts of the narrative.

Ryan: Yep. So many directions they could have gone but they made it creepy.This is why I don’t have it ranked at the bottom of the movies I’ve seen this year–I think this is a fantastic movie to see and learn what NOT TO DO in a good movie.

This is why I don’t have it ranked at the bottom of the movies I’ve seen this year–I think this is a fantastic movie to see and learn what NOT TO DO in a good movie.

Tom: I wouldn’t rank it at the bottom either. The script is weak, but much the rest of the movie is actually rather strong.

Ryan: Not the science. When they go for their spacewalk and step off the edge they would not fall into space.

Tom: That’s OK. At the end of the movie, Jim should have just drifted off past the Avalon as it sped past at whatever high speed it was doing.

And that’s assuming he didn’t die of radiation poisoning three months later.

Ryan: Heh. Well they had a vacant Auto-Doc to help him.

Tom: Yeah, one that somehow would bring him back by doing everything at once.

Ryan: Yeah, him flinging the door to make him go back towards the ship…um no. Likewise Aurora flying to him. And everyone who sees this movie knows the tether is going to stop her short of him, right? I mean, we all suffered through Mission to Mars.

Tom: We also all reveled during The Martian when we saw how tough a mid-space grab can get.

Ryan: Too bad Jim didn’t see that–he had a venting spacesuit that he could’ve used to go Iron Man.

BTW, Chris Pratt has yet to make a movie where he DOESN’T freeze and suffocate in space.

Tom: Yeah, I remember when that happened in Jurassic World and The Magnificent Seven. I wouldn’t have thought they would go into space for either of those movies, and yet the Fantastic Four took him there every time…

Ryan: I meant movies where he’s in space. Not that you know what that means.

Tom: I have to cut people off at the metaphorical pass before the space thing comes up again.

Watson: Herrrrrre’s Watson. Defender of the film. I really liked this one. Not because I am a creeper who defends creepy creepers. But because I think they did address the creepiness. Could they have addressed it better? Yes. And that’s what keeping this from being truly great. But it was pretty damn good.

Here’s my take. He was alone for a full year. He literally had SPAAAAAACCCCEEEE MADDDDDDDNESSSSS!

Tom: Huh. That reminds me of how much I didn’t dig Ren and Stimpy when the missus introduced me to it.

For what it’s worth, I agree on the space madness. It’s her reaction to it in the end that bothered me and seems to have really bothered Ryan.

Watson: I think you were onto my theory on why she forgave him. She was terrified when he was going to die. Not because she was still in love. But because she was terrified of life alone.

What would have made it better is instead of saying “I can’t live on this ship without you!” they should have had her say “I can’t live on this ship alone!”

That change, plus a little tweak to the epilogue about how they had to work together and no one should have to live alone would have made it perfect.

Tom: I think maybe a little more time after the ship got fixed, showing them gradually coming together somehow, but maybe not romantically, could have made for a better ending. Morpheus says how a drowning man will pull others down in his wake mere moments before Lawrence’s character literally almost drowns.

Watson: Yeah. I can buy that. Instead of kissing after the big action scene, maybe a hug?

Tom: Or maybe a tentative handshake of some kind.

Watson: Loved Morpheus’s analysis on the ethics. Pretty much framed the debate. Not saying it is right but desperation of that situation is understandable.

A curt nod of acknowledgment?

Tom: Something.

Maybe a small smile, she asks for some time alone to think, they come together…make the movie another twenty minutes longer with them becoming at least friendly again, or get the ship problems sooner, and maybe it works better.

Because, as much as he is stalking her as Ryan says, he’s fundamentally a good guy in every other instance. He is the one to remind Aurora that she can’t let the two of them die if the reactor goes because there are 5,000 other people to worry about.

Ryan: Let’s not forget that something was wrong with Jim to begin with. He was really, REALLY eager to make friends when he first woke up. Primping and trying different ways of wearing a jacket. Something was up there that was never explored.He talked about why he decided to emigrate. Said he wanted wide open spaces. Wanted to build a house. Wanted to repair things. Well he can do that on the ship. Again, something more was going on. Maybe parts of the script were cut. Maybe Pratt played him differently. But I don’t buy the space madness as a justification.

He talked about why he decided to emigrate. Said he wanted wide open spaces. Wanted to build a house. Wanted to repair things. Well he can do that on the ship. Again, something more was going on. Maybe parts of the script were cut. Maybe Pratt played him differently. But I don’t buy the space madness as a justification.

Tom: I read an article on I09 recently that the original script had Jim alone for a much longer portion of the movie, but casting Lawrence as Aurora meant giving her character more screen time.

Ryan: Oh and drowning people DO NOT try and take people with them. They try and save themselves and sometimes that pushes other people (rescuers) down. It’s common enough to have a name: AVIR.

Watson: Ethical question: If you are in Pratt’s situation, what do you do?

Not fair question for Ryan. 99 years without having to talk to another human being is his idea of heaven.

Tom: Not sure. I’d like to think I wouldn’t do what he did, but I get why he would.

Ryan: People with terminal diseases do not go on murder sprees. Of course I wouldn’t do it. It’s knowing you will die but deciding to kill before you go.When

When the writer says most people would do what Jim did what I read is that HE would do it. Those of us who would not find that abhorrent.

Obviously, this is more extreme but this is similar to the problem I had with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day (the movie). When Alexander has everything going wrong for him while his family seems to have everything going right and he gets a wish, his wish is for his family’s life to suck. Not for his life to be better. This makes him an asshole and it’s hard to now cheer for an asshole.

Watson: I think it is the height of hyperbole to say he killed her. She would have lived a full lifetime on the ship. It’s just a matter of saying where she lived. Big difference.

Ryan: Um, what? She makes this same point in the movie. He has robbed her of the life she intended to lead.

Tom: But wouldn’t that make him more of a thief than a murderer? It’s not like Homestead II had the promise of immortality to it. Besides, a malfunctioning pod already “murdered” Jim by that logic.And I’m sure everyone has had moments when something happened that forced a major change in plans. My sister would call that the moment she realized she was unmarried and pregnant.

And I’m sure everyone has had moments when something happened that forced a major change in plans. My sister would call that the moment she realized she was unmarried and pregnant.I guess, for me, while I agree with Ryan that the decision Jim made is monstrous, I am reluctant to call him a monster. He does stalk Aurora before he wakes her, but it isn’t his first impulse. It’s the decision he makes after being completely alone for over a year. I don’t think Arthur is that good as company, and there’s a reason one of the current ongoing prison reforms is to end solitary confinement. It does things to people.

I guess, for me, while I agree with Ryan that the decision Jim made is monstrous, I am reluctant to call him a monster. He does stalk Aurora before he wakes her, but it isn’t his first impulse. It’s the decision he makes after being completely alone for over a year. I don’t think Arthur is that good as company, and there’s a reason one of the current ongoing prison reforms is to end solitary confinement. It does things to people.

My biggest issue is less what he did to her (and it is a bad thing) and more how she ultimately responds in a particularly cliched movie moment.

Here’s a thought…why didn’t they take turns in the Auto-Doc? He gets a year, she gets a year, maybe then one of them makes it Homestead as a very old person.

Ryan: I have no problem calling him a monster. Being alone is set up to be this huge Reason-Without-A-Reason for what he did. And yet they never fully go there. Jim doesn’t try to kill himself but gets close. And he knows what he’s doing is wrong. Solitary confinement does horrible things but this wasn’t that.

However, if you buy into the whole “being alone made him do it” then Jim is, by definition, a monster. The word monster comes from the Latin monere: to warn. Monsters are warnings. Buying into space madness means Jim is a warning about the perils of solitude and how that can turn an innocent person into one who kills. He’s a monster.

As to whether he’s a thief or murderer the distinction is meaningless when the thing he stole is her life. She was wealthy and planned on returning home. She was the WORST possible victim. She would be the first round trip writer. She had the money and resources to live a full life over another two centuries. And with medical advances back on Earth who knows what that might have turned into.

I see that as stealing her life. Best case if you don’t is you can see him as an abductor who kidnapped Aurora out of the life she chose and he forces her into a different life. She’s Elizabeth Smart with no chance of escape. He’s horrific and her choices after that aren’t believable because of what he did.

Tom: Agreed on her choices, but “monster” has a connotation of a depraved individual that does nothing but horrible things. And while Jim approaches Aurora under false pretenses (which, yes, is bad), what little else we see of him says he’s not a complete monster since he is willing to sacrifice himself to save 5,000 lives. Arguably, he is the only one who can, but he does it all the same. Besides, if you are trying to apply reason and logic to an emotional decision, we can be here all day. There’s a reason Spock and McCoy never really got along.

Watson: Yeah. What definition of Monster was “to warn” in the old dictionary? Five? Six?

But still, I do concede a point to you guys. Her response was glossed over or sped up to further this as a romantic movie. That’s the part that bugged me. Not that he made a choice that I think many people might make in the same circumstance.

Tom: Though I think the individual’s assessment of Jim as a character would be largely colored by how that person saw everything else he did through the lens of the bad choice. See it as an understandable but very wrong decision, and he isn’t so bad. See it as the fundamental ruination of Aurora’s life, and everything he does becomes suspect thereafter.

Tom: Question for the audience: if Jim had fixed the ship and then the romance happened, how much does that change the movie?

Watson: Ryan had an interesting point upthread: Pratt was too likable for this role. Who else would you have preferred then? I offer up the name Jake Gyllenhaal. Thoughts?

Tom: Interesting. I’ll throw in Fassbender.

Watson: To Tom’s question, I actually liked the sequence of events. I think they should have just dealt with the aftermath more realistically. Not tried to turn it back into a romcom. I think they should have had him die (the only way to redeem him fully) and then had her alone on the ship to really accentuate the “what would YOU do?” conundrum.

Ryan: I could go on about monsters because I find the subject fascinating. Frankenstein’s creation was a monster warning people shot the dangers of overreaching science. Vampires were warnings about those dangerous foreigners (most people forget vampires had to return to their coffin to sleep because it rested above soil from their homeland). The list goes on but is only partially related here. I still say he’s a monster but I’m not even using the warning reasoning. If Elizabeth Smart’s abductor had taken her to Disneyland that doesn’t make him a nice guy.

Gyllenhaal would have been creepier. Especially after Nightcrawler. Crispin Glover would have been even better.

And I agree about that ending. Have her alone on the ship repeating many of the moments alone with Jim in the first act. Then she sits at the bar with the robot and looks at him. “How….” she hesitates. “How did Jim–” cut to black.

Watson: That would have been a great movie. Some level of understanding but no love. Made her seem weaker to force feed us a happy ending.

Serious question though. Somebody brought up the Revenge of the Nerds analogy upthread. I have always had obvious trouble with that scene. That was purely rape. I had an uneasy feeling when they finally sleep together in Passengers. I don’t think it was rape because she gave consent but she damn sure didn’t have all the information available….

Ryan: I consider it rape. After he woke her up and didn’t tell her everything until she learns otherwise was a ruse. She can’t give informed consent if she isn’t informed.

When they are in their sex-all-the-time phase and he uses the line “You’re so beautiful…you kill me.” I physically winced at that.

Watson: That definition opens a very slippery moral slope. Wouldn’t keeping any big secret from a potential lover fall into the same category?

That line was actually one of the moments that was trying to deal seriously with the moral situation. I think you were supposed to wince. My guess is, this movie was much more complex when the creative team sketched it out. Then the studio execs tried to Disney it up a bit and that created the uneven ending.

Ryan: Yes but things like that are on a spectrum. I don’t know the fine point where the line exists but his condemning her to death and not telling her is past the line.

The movie may have been more complex when it started and the casting ruined it. It should have been an indie. That would have freed it to be creepy and not creepy with chocolate syrup.

Watson: The director said as much right?

Ryan: The more I think about it, I would love to do a film discussion comparing Passengers to 10 Cloverfield Lane. Ponder that for a bit.

Yeah. Although I don’t buy the director saying he wanted the controversy and the discussion. That’s kinda like a murderer saying after the trial “I just wanted people to see how I did it and talk about it.”

Watson: No one really died.

I think given the reviews, he has to say anything. He’s the one who gets stuck with the failure. The reviews were very kind to the leads even with the bad press.

Ryan: True. Because they’re media favorites. J-Law does no wrong and Pratt gets press ABOUT his press tours.

They couldn’t turn down the casting but it also sounds like the casting doomed it. This should have been an indie film.

Watson: I think the cliche edits in the third act ruined it. Which is sad because it probably wasn’t the director’s fault.

Ok. Switching gears a little. I was sitting next to Ryan in the theater and he did laugh at times and oooohed a couple of scenes. What did you LIKE about this movie, guys?

Tom: I think the first act worked for the most part, though it felt rushed to get to Lawrence. Good special effects. Interesting set-up considering the colonizing company’s stake in things. Remove the romantic elements that don’t work due to the morality involved, and you’d have a much stronger movie.

Though, as an aside, I would say Frankenstein, not the creation, was the true monster as he’s essentially a deadbeat dad.

Ryan: Um, you were sitting next to Brook. I don’t oooohhhhh at movies unless it’s a home movie of you being insulted. 🙂

Frankenstein is certainly a bad guy but the creation is the monster. Just like the Mummy is a monster while the explorer that releases him or triggers the curse is also not doing the right thing.

I liked the set up of the colonies and the economics of the world but then they abandoned it. Why are there different classes on the ship?

Watson: Because capitalism is hard to shake. Let’s wrap it up here? Final verdict? What’s your score.

I give Passengers 8 charming android bartenders we didn’t talk much about out of 10.

Ryan: I give it a 3. And those points are merely for the value of seeing where it went wrong so that this kind of nonsense stops.

I think the plot point is inexcusable. Both from a reality of that world perspective and from a why the hell is Hollywood making this perspective.

Tom: My final grade in the review I wrote was a 6. Enough good stuff going on to elevate that, but a 6 is a failure as far as I’m concerned.

Ryan: This movie only gave us two good things.  First, the hope that this kind of script never gets made again.  And second, this brilliant segment from the press tour in the UK:



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