The movie Passengers, judging from its ad campaign, would appear to be a somewhat conventional film in which a ship bound for a new human colony on a far off planet suffers an odd malfunction, causing two passengers on the voyage to wake up 90 years too early with no way to go back to sleep.
Then the movie came out and had what was probably to many a surprisingly controversial angle. Now, normally, when I do reviews here I make them as spoiler free as possible. I won’t be doing that this time because I want to talk about what the movie is saying that it may not have intended to, but did anyway. As such MASSIVE SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT. You’ve been warned.
Anyway, the movie opens with the Avalon about thirty or so years into a 120 year voyage when a meteor hits the shield and causes a short in a few places onboard. One of those places is the cry-pod for mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). Jim wakes up early and finds himself more or less alone on the ship as everyone else is still asleep. He can’t go back to sleep himself either. His only company is an android bartender (Michael Sheen) named Arthur, but Arthur is only good for so much.
Jim does everything he can to keep himself occupied. He takes over a luxury suite, plays every game onboard and eats from every restaurant. He even takes a space walk. But after a year, he’s so lonely he’s suicidal. As it is, he spots one Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her own pod. She’s a writer, and Jim looks up her writing and her pre-flight videos and falls in love with the woman who is, for all practical purposes, a complete and total stranger. After some extreme temptation, Jim opts to wake Aurora up so he’ll have someone to keep him company.
And then he doesn’t tell her he woke her up on purpose, but the two find love and everything is fine for a while.
Now, there’s no drama if Aurora doesn’t find out she’s only awake because of Jim, and naturally she doesn’t like that news one little bit. Basically, Jim sentenced her to a death sentence, something he is fully aware of.
And then, after the two manage to repair the damage to the ship caused in the opening minutes, where Jim nearly dies in the attempt…she forgives him and they live onboard happily ever after.
There are so many problems with this scenario.
In many ways, this movie reminds me of, of all things, Revenge of the Nerds. Amongst the various pranks the nerds play include setting up cameras in the snooty sorority to spy on the women changing clothes, and then later one nerd goes to have sex with one of the girls while in disguise, but it’s OK because he’s better at it than her boyfriend, AKA the guy she thought she was having sex with.
You know what that is? Sexual assault. That won’t fly today, or at least it shouldn’t. Shakespeare’s time, indeed a couple of his plays, would have a “bed trick” where a man would go to bed and have sex in the dark, not knowing the woman he was, shall we say, enjoying himself with was not the woman he thought it was. It was usually a woman tricking a man, but the opposite could also happen.
However, today we have different ideas about the roles of the sexes than we did in either Shakespeare’s time or in Revenge of the Nerds‘ time. A part of me felt a great deal of satisfaction seeing Bill Cosby finally get charged with a crime he has been accused of committing many times to women he drugged. A similar charge may not have been enough to derail Donald Trump’s political ambitions, but the fact that it wasn’t brushed under the table as much as it might have been as little as twenty years ago strikes me as a good sign that maybe the sorts of things that are considered acceptable behavior then no longer are now.
Going back to Revenge of the Nerds, why does the nerd in question get away with his assault? Because he’s good at sex. The implication seems to be that if you are a “nice guy,” then it doesn’t matter what you do to get the girl. She will recognize your innate “goodness” and you’ll be fine and gettin’ laid in no time.
And that, in a way, is what happens with Jim and Aurora. Now, Jim never pretends to be anyone other than who he says he is, and perhaps the relationship would have happened had the two met when the ship arrived at Homestead II anyway. Jim is, at heart, a good man who only did what he did out of extreme loneliness, and he’s played by Chris Pratt, human charisma machine. Pratt and Lawrence have good chemistry. And the movie does have the sense to depict Jim’s crisis of conscience as something that weighs heavily on him, and he only does what he does after a very long time being by himself. Solitary confinement does strange things to people. And I can even say that, if he has to wake up one person, making it an attractive woman makes sense.
What doesn’t work is Aurora’s forgiveness.
The movie, when it ends, makes it clear that Aurora made the right call to stay awake with Jim, even after he finds a way to put her, and only her, back to sleep for the rest of the journey. There’s even a part of me that could accept Aurora agreeing to stay awake but only for the companionship angle to keep poor Jim sane, not to slip back the romantic relationship they had before she learned why she was awake and into an implied marriage. And the movie makes it seem like this is the absolute right call. Considering the script originally called for just Jim to be alone for a much longer period of time, that Aurora was inserted into the film earlier than planned when Lawrence was cast, makes for a different angle. Jennifer Lawrence is arguably the biggest female star in the world right now. Sidelining her makes little sense on a number of levels.
But there’s this part of me that wonders what happened. Lawrence is aware of how things can go wrong for women what with her selfies getting hacked a few years ago. Was it that when Jim seemed destined to die himself that Aurora saw the perils of being alone on the Avalon for decades made her see things from his perspective? How could she truly trust the guy when he, in essence, stole her life from her. The movie implies the two had a fabulous life until they eventually died. There are entire ethical angles the movie glosses over when it reaches the finish line.
Which is something of a shame. Direct Morten Tyldum, following up his fantastic The Imitation Game, has fashioned a technically beautiful film. Without the ethical considerations to Jim’s actions being largely forgotten in the closing minutes, this would have easily gotten a nine out of ten vacuum-bots just for the sheer beauty of the construction of the film. Instead, we have moral issues that perhaps shouldn’t be there, and as a result, I can only give this film a six out of ten deck trees.