‘Passengers’ Review | Creeper Ascending
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains information about the plot of Passengers that isn’t in most of the marketing materials. It might be considered a SPOILER, but it’s the fundamental premise of the film, introduced in the first act, and it’s vital to understand that premise in order to understand the film’s problems.]
Bad people, so the old writing adage goes, don’t know that they’re bad people. Everybody at least thinks they’re doing the right thing even if, from the outside, with the benefit of objectivity, it might be pretty abundantly clear to the rest of us that they are doing terrible things, and that they should be taken to task for their unethical behavior.
If Passengers were a person, it would be one of those people. It tries to pass itself off as romantic but it doesn’t seem to realize that it’s actually careened headlong into stalker territory. It’s the story of a man trapped in the cold dark void of space with only one other person, a woman who cannot escape him no matter how much she eventually wants to. It’s about a woman whose life is utterly destroyed by a man’s selfishness. It’s a nightmare scenario for every human being who has been trapped in an unhealthy relationship. And Passengers expects us to think that it’s really the victim’s fault for not understanding where this guy is coming from.
The film starts just fine. Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mild-mannered mechanic who, while in the middle of a century-long cryogenic slumber, wakes up on a cruise ship in space and discovers that he is completely alone. A system has malfunctioned and now he’s stuck, and forced to live out the next 80 years of his life in isolation, with only a stationary bartender robot played by Michael Sheen to keep him company, in a bar that looks suspiciously like the one from The Shining. Jim can’t go back to sleep. He’s doomed. Doomed. He has our sympathy.
And then, one day, Jim notices that one of the women in the cryogenic sleep chambers looks like Jennifer Lawrence. He’s intrigued. He reads her online profile and stares at her for months, wishing she’d wake up, deciding he’s in love with her. He knows he’d only be subjecting her to the same horrific fate by waking her up, but he’s lonely. Maybe he could cure his loneliness by ruining the life of the unwitting object of his romantic desire. So he’s tempted to take every decision she could ever possibly make for the rest of her life away from her, essentially forcing her to endure his company for the rest of her life in the hopes that she might feel the same way about him… or at least settle for his affections out of total mind-shattering ennui.
To its credit, Passengers acknowledges the moral consequences of Jim’s actions. At least, at first. It’s easy to understand what he’s going through. He’s lonely. He can’t go on like this, completely alone, forever. It’s not that I don’t feel for the protagonist’s plight, it’s that I can’t forgive him for how he chooses to resolve it. Waking up another human being to be his life preserver is a profoundly selfish, despicable act. You can understand why someone did something terrible – and maybe even acknowledge a part of yourself would be tempted to do the same thing in their unthinkable situation – and still denounce them for their behavior. Prisons are populated (at least in part) by murderers who felt like they had a perfectly good reason for killing somebody, but as a culture, we disagree so strongly that we lock them up to show our disapproval, and to deter anybody else from making that same horrible decision ever again.
Passengers, on the other hand, takes the opposite route. It’s so sympathetic with Jim that, even though it acknowledges his victim’s right to be angry, it alters the very fabric of reality in order to justify his horrific behavior. Situations arise in the second half of Passengers that force Aurora Lane, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, to adapt to Jim’s way of thinking and downplay her own thoughts and feelings, effectively letting him off the hook out of pure contrivance. Problems pop up on the ship that can only be solved by two people, for instance, which Jim couldn’t possibly have known before he woke Aurora up but which undeniably means that – if only from a purely fatalistic perspective – audiences will be technically be able to argue that Jim did “the right thing.” It’s like the filmmakers have all ganged up on their female protagonist to give her Stockholm Syndrome, and the audience is expected to simply shut up and accept that they were right to do so.
Passengers is a slick production, and Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence and (particularly) Michael Sheen are doing their best to sell the material they’re given as the exciting and intriguing outer space “what if” adventure that was obviously supposed to be, at least in theory. But the filmmakers are spending an incredible amount time, energy and money to justify a kidnapping, and that undermines the film’s ability to be anything but an unintentional horror movie. And it’s really very horrifying. And not in a good way.
Top Photo: Sony Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.