(spoilers, but you shouldn’t see this movie anyway)
(tw: rape culture)
Passengers is a story about people trapped on a ship for far too long, which is fitting, because while watching Passengers I felt trapped in the theatre for far too long.
The premise involves a commercial spaceship travelling a 120-year journey to colonize the planet of Homestead II. 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members have embarked on this journey, and are currently in hibernation in their sleep chambers, to awake mere months before landing. However, after an unexpected crash with some asteroids, one sleep chamber malfunctions, causing its passenger to be stranded on the ship, alone, 90 years too soon and with no way to get back to hibernation.
Written by Jon Spaihts, it’s admittedly an interesting premise. However, after about 20 minutes of engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) I Am Legending the spaceship, things get super uncomfortable. Jim has become infatuated with a fellow passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer, and decides to awaken her so that he will have a companion for his journey to nowhere.
This action is downright horrifying for a huge number of reasons, but perhaps most of all because the film treats Jim’s choice as a reasonable one. From the moment that Jim disables Aurora’s sleep chamber without her consent (and she is unable to consent here), he becomes an irredeemable character. And by placing him at the center of the film, the movie asks us to take pity on him.
From this moment on, the film becomes extraordinarily uncomfortable. Aurora doesn’t know that her life has been stolen, and she naturally falls in love with the only other person awake on the ship.
Passengers plays itself like a soft-core porno. It spends an excruciating amount of time with the characters in love, and there is a LOT of skin (from both parties, though the movie is definitely catered towards the male gaze). Given what you know about Jim by this point in the film, you will want to scream. Given the voyeuristic nature of cinema, you can’t.
See how the movie becomes painful to watch?
Because of the way this decision is handled, the rest of the film is null and void. Even if the movie had the most breathtaking special effects of all time (most of the technical elements are mediocre), the film would still be unwatchable (and again, it’s not like there’s that much to see past the premise).
So, in the spirit of Christmas, and the desire for constructive criticism, let’s discuss some of the problems with this storyline, and ways that this catastrophe could have been avoided (other than the obvious “having more diversity in the filmmaking process”).
First, the movie shows us the main character committing a deplorable act. Not the type of act where he is seen as a lovable anti-hero, but an act of desperation that directly harms the other main character. Some people, including director Morton Tyldum, say that most people would have done what Jim did. Not only does this set an incredibly low standard for humanity, but says that the desires of one person are more important than the agency of another. That’s rape culture.
This could have been avoided if the movie simply flipped perspectives. If the film opened on Aurora waking up from her sleep chamber, the audience wouldn’t immediately know how much of a terrible human being Jim is. Of course, it would eventually be revealed, but this would allow for a more dynamic character development and a much more watchable film. Talk about a plot twist.
Next, Passengers romances Jim’s act. From the movie’s tone and the fact that the ship may soon be destroyed, it is clear that the film is trying to be a recreation of Titanic. It doesn’t help that both of the characters are extraordinarily attractive. There is complete cognitive dissonance because the audience is watching things that are supposed to be romantic, but in actuality are really goddamn creepy.
There are a few ways to get out of this one. Instead of framing the plot as a love story, there should be a sense of unease when Aurora wakes up. She can’t totally trust Jim. This leads to a story of suspense as she tries to put together what happened. Even if they do fall in love, the revelation has to be more intense. This goes back to the first point of flipping perspectives. Right now the movie features Jim brooding and trying to get Aurora to like him again, but Aurora has been trapped alone on a ship with the person who stuck her there. It’s a captivity narrative, not a romance.
Finally, the movie gaslights Aurora. I’m gonna spoil the rest of the film here:
The ship is headed for destruction, and together, Jim and Aurora save the rest of the passengers. Because of this act of heroism, Aurora decides that she does love Jim after all, and they happily spend the rest of their lives together on the ship, even when there is an opportunity for one of them to go back to sleep. The movie pretends like Jim’s actions are suddenly okay, because a bigger source of trauma just came along.
There’s a really simple way to fix this. Kill Jim. Aurora writes her book, discovers the secret sleep chamber, and wakes up 89 ½ years later. Not only would this solve the problem of Jim & Aurora’s relationship, but it would serve as punishment for Jim.
FinallyFinally: Jim could have simply not disabled Aurora’s sleep chamber. Simple as that.
Passengers is a painful movie to watch. In that way, it’s a good way to wrap up 2016. The first 15 minutes of the film even looked like it had promise. It builds a decent world on the ship, features some interesting sci-fi technology and casts Martin Sheen as a bartender Android (and for some reason the only robot with human characteristics). But the movie screws up so horribly along the way that there is no way for it to redeem itself.
Don’t go see it. You don’t want to be a passenger on this sinking ship.