Release Date: December 21st, 2016
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne
Passengers was in development hell since 2007. It was a popular script that went through a lot of studios, directors, and actors, until it finally came to us at the end of 2016 with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Finally, after all this time, it's here. And it is certainly a problematic film. Note: Spoilers follow.
The film takes place on the starship Avalon, taking 5,000 people, currently in hibernation, on a 120-year trip to a planet called Homestead II, where they will begin their new lives. Due to a malfunction caused by a collision with some asteroids, Jim Parson's hibernation pod is deactivated, and he is woken up 90 years too early, with absolutely no way of returning to sleep. After spending a year completely alone and unable to contact anyone, Jim cannot handle the loneliness anymore, and he chooses to wake up another passenger, Aurora Lane, so that he might have some company. They develop a relationship until Aurora discovers the truth. Eventually it is discovered that the ship is currently malfunctioning, and they will have to set aside their differences in order to fix it and save all the passengers.
There are a lot of good things going for Passengers. The ship design, from the rotating hallways to the forward meteor-deflecting shields, are impressive and fantastically rendered. The parts that are CGI are well done, and the scenes that takes place in non-CGI rendered rooms are incredibly designed. Granted, the film seems to pull from a lot of other sci-fi influences for its designs and concepts (see: Wall-E and Ender's Game) Chris Pratt's Jim, being the main focus of the film for its first act, gives a strong performance in what is sure to be a difficult role, but it's Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora who really stands out. Her emotional range reaches further than Pratt's, and her performance reminds us of why she has nominated (and won) so many awards. Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne, being the only other characters that appear with any form of impact, do decent jobs as well considering their small screen time, and Sheen in particular needs to be commended on his android "Anthony."
The idea behind Passengers is solid, harking back to the classic questions of golden age science fiction: if you were trapped and alone until the end of your days, would you force someone else to suffer with you, knowing you would essentially doom them as well? Or better yet, what lengths would we go to, to not to be alone? Passengers offers us this question, gives us an deplorable yet intriguing answer, and then lets us see the horrific consequences. That in itself is a bold move for a Hollywood film. They could have easily had Aurora awoken by accident just like Jim, but having Jim make that choice is high stakes and high drama. By all accounts this should be a tragic story. By releasing Aurora from her hibernation just to keep him company, Jim has essentially (as she says in the movie) murdered her.
But the film's tone and story direction make the answers to these questions problematic. We are meant to feel empathy for JIm and support the romance that ensues. At no point does the movie want us to think about how creepy it is. Passengers is a male power fantasy. Jim is a young, fit, capable engineer who embodies all of the stereotypical concepts of manliness. He awakes on a ship designed to cater to his every need and desire, and when he finds that he can't stand being alone anymore, he makes the choice to bring someone into his doomed life. And who does he choose? A beautiful, smart, successful woman that he has obsessed over for weeks, if not months. The movie makes it clear that it's only by chance that he discovers Aurora, but the point is that it's her, on a ship of 5,000 souls, that he chooses: he has the power to choose whoever he desire. Aurora is a person with hopes and dreams, and by waking her, Jim takes away her agency. She is trapped alongside someone against her will, and the ending that makes it appear serendipitous (they need two people to save the ship!) is a cop-out that masks the real consequences. Aurora's choice at the end solidifies this. She had a chance to continue on her own voyage, but gives it up to stay with her captor. Stockholm syndrome in space. And all of this would make for an amazing character study and a great story on the depths of human desperation, if not for the fact that the movie tries to pass itself off as a romance.
With these thoughts in mind, I can't recommend this movie. If you're curious about the sci-fi elements or have a strong desire to see Chris Pratt's bare ass or Jennifer Lawrence in a swimsuit, I still would recommend waiting until it's available on rental or streaming. But by then, I can't help but think this movie will be forgotten.