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Passengers (2016)

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a Sci-Fi take on Castaway combined with a love story. It has some potentially confusing things to say about the actions that people will/should take for love and companionship.

Recap

In the distant future, the colonization of new planets has been privatized. A company allows people to leave Earth, in a batch of about 5,000, and go to a newly prepared planet that they can cultivate with a smaller population. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is a mechanic from Minnesota who wants to go live on a world where fixing things will be a valued skill. Because he has a valuable skill, he’s given a discount ticket to ride about the Starship Avalon. The trip takes 120 years, during which the crew and passengers on the ship are placed into suspended animation. 30 years into the journey the ship, which is on autopilot, hits a huge meteor field which damages the ship. This causes Jim’s sleep pod to malfunction (which never happens) and he wakes up alone on the ship. He has an ID that gives him access to most of the ship, but not to things like the engine room or the control room, so he cannot try to reroute the ship.

After trying desperately to go back to sleep and contact Earth, Jim finally accepts his fate. He lives alone on the ship for over a year with only the company of an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). For some time, he has fun on the Avalon but the loneliness eventually causes him to start to lose his sanity. Jim gets to the point where he tries to kill himself by opening an air lock. He chickens out and runs out of the air lock only to fall near the pod of a beautiful woman, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Jim becomes fascinated with Aurora and starts to research her in the ship’s logs. Driven by his infatuation and loneliness, Jim starts to consider waking Aurora up. He knows that he would be condemning her to the same fate as him but, he is convinced that he is in love with her. In a moment of weakness, he acts and wakes her up. He immediately regrets the decision and tells Arthur, the only thing he talks to, not to let Aurora know what he did.

Despite his initial regret, he and Aurora are able to support each other on the ship. It takes a while for her to reach the same phase of acceptance that he has. Learning about Aurora also forces Jim to learn about everything that his actions took away from her. Together they are able to open up more of the ship, which allows them to make some improvements to their living conditions. Once Aurora reaches the same place of acceptance that Jim was at, the two begin a romance and fall in love. In a state of romantic bliss, Jim mistakenly tells Arthur that there are “no secrets” between he and Aurora. Of course, Arthur immediately spills the beans to Aurora about Jim waking her up. This makes her so angry that she can’t see straight, literally. She spends weeks separated from Jim and distraught that the man she fell in love with had, essentially, stolen her life. There’s a great moment where, in the middle of her grief, she sneaks into Jim’s room. He wakes up to find her standing over him glaring at her before she begins savagely punching and kicking him, stopping just short of bashing his head in with a big tool.

As time has gone on, more and more things have started to malfunction on the ship. Jim has continued to fix things as best he can. One day another big malfunction happens and one of the crew, Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) wakes up. With his access to the ship, they’re able to figure out that whatever woke Jim up, has caused a major problem that will eventually cause the ship to stop functioning. Because Gus’ pod malfunctioned when it resuscitated him, Gus soon dies but he is able to set Jim and Aurora on the path to fixing the ship. With their lives in danger, Aurora is forced to work with Jim to fix the ship. Eventually, they trace the malfunctions to a reactor that needs to be discharged and reset. Because the ship is malfunctioning, Jim has to go outside and manually hold the jettison doors open, which means standing directly in the way of the blast. They are able to reset the reactor but Jim is left floating, dead in space. Aurora races out of the ship and is able to use a medical pod to bring him back to life.

With the ship stabilized and a higher level of access, Jim is able to figure out how to use the medical pod to put Aurora back into suspended animation. He offers her the chance, knowing that it would mean that he’d spend the next 88 years alone. Aurora, decides not to go back to sleep, but to live out the rest of her life alone on the Avalon with Jim. The two seem to live a happy life and, when the crew wakes up, they find that the interior of their ship has been terraformed with lush plant life. Jim and Aurora are presumably long dead at this point but Aurora, who was a writer, has chronicled their lives so that people on their new world would know what happened.

What did I think?

This is a movie where there’s a lot of aspects that fall into a clear category of “good movie” vs “bad movie”. The “bad movie” parts are mostly the things were I felt like the movie was going out of its way to try to manufacture emotion. The biggest perpetrators of this were the scenes when the movie tried to create suspense by suggesting to the audience that this movie would have anything other than a happy ending. It’s not like having those scenes is bad, but they were just drawn out way too much in this movie. It also didn’t help that the two biggest pauses happen at the end of the movie. The first is when they try to pretend that Pratt’s character is going to die. The second is when they pretend that Lawrence’s character is going to go back to sleep and leave her man all alone. This movie had already shown itself to be playing too much into fantasy fulfillment tropes for me to believe that either of those things would happen. From the moment Aurora wakes up and isn’t at all suspicious of Jim, through their inevitable “let’s have sex on a table” romance, it was obvious where this movie was headed.

Ironically, the “good movie” parts have a lot to do with the way in which those tropes are presented. There is some real dramatic conflict set up for Chris Pratt’s character. A lot of this happens early on the movie when Jim is on screen by himself or with Arthur (who is delightful). That part of the movie is good enough at being a high tech version of Castaway, with Author acting as an interactive Wilson. He does a great job at portraying the isolation of his character as well as the dilemma of what to do with Aurora. The pain of that decision lingered throughout most of the movie, and really added some needed depth to a lot of the scenes.

Unfortunately, most of that went away by the end of the movie. Once the ship was in danger, there was no more working through the emotional trauma that was established, it was just a sense of everything’s forgiven because we’re in trouble now. They did try to make Aurora’s resentment linger, but there was no transition from that to really seeing her work through the emotion of forgiving Jim. It was more of the “I was always in love with him, no matter what”.

That’s the complicated thing about this movie for me. On one hand we have Jim basically stalking Aurora and ruining her life in order to cure his own loneliness. On the other hand, his actions are presented as understandable, if not forgivable, because he is in an unreasonable and unfair situation. Aurora’s reaction to all of this seems to suggest that she’s actually okay with everything given enough time to let it sink in. Aurora makes a quick switch from being in love with him to being incredibly heartbroken to being back in love again. The thing that’s really funny is that the act that causes her to fall back in love with Jim is him deciding to sacrifice himself in order to save everyone on the ship. The irony in this, is that that decision would have condemned her to the same fate of loneliness that Jim couldn’t face. They are suggested to live happily ever after despite the fact that their entire relationship seems to be based on Jim’s selfish decisions.

There’s just not enough insight into Aurora’s point of view for me to really feel comfortable with the relationship playing out that way. Does she really just decide that Jim stealing her life so that she could be with him isn’t that big of a deal anymore? I completely bought (and loved) the scenes where she was enraged by his decision. I wanted those feelings to have to be dealt with by more than just the adrenaline of an emergency.

I suppose that the fact that the movie caused me to think about these things is some indication that the story telling was effective. I do think that it trends a little bit toward sending a negative message because it shows that a successful relationship can begin completely without one party’s consent. However, I do give them credit for not romanticizing the conflict that that kind of decision making causes.

Passengers (2016)

Passengers (2016)
8.1

Story / Plot

8/10

    Characters

    8/10

      Visuals

      9/10

        Music / Audio

        8/10

          Entertainment

          8/10

            Pros

            • For a movie with only two actual people on screen for most of the time, it's got a lot of personality
            • Chris Pratt's charm carries the first act of the movie
            • Michael Sheen is delightful as the android bartender and comedic relief of the movie

            Cons

            • Parts of it feel a little too closee a stereotypical YA genre film
            • Lawrence does a good amount for the drama of the movie, but not the humor.
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