Thursday, January 12, 2017
PASSENGERS (Morten Tyldum, 2016)
Everyone aboard the spaceship Avalon in PASSENGERS is to be in a state of hypersleep for most of the 120-year journey to Homestead II. Unfortunately for Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), he is accidentally awakened about thirty years into the voyage, meaning that if he can’t get back in that suspended state, he will live the rest of his life and die before anyone else comes out of their hibernation chambers. Jim has his run of the spacecraft, for the most part, but the company of just humanoid bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) and the servant robots.
For a year Jim studies and works to no avail to figure out how he might save himself. Inconsolably lonely, he becomes enchanted with Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer and fellow passenger he learns everything about. Finally Jim decides to awaken her so that he will have someone to share this doomed time with. Aurora doesn’t know that he is responsible for what has happened to her. She and Jim don’t become close right away, but considering the circumstances, their bond naturally becomes tighter, with Jim’s secret just waiting to be exposed and ruin everything.
The early section of PASSENGERS with Jim on his own cuts to the humor and terror in his predicament. He is relieved to send a message to someone who might be able to help, but the punchline is that it will take decades for his distress call to reach anyone. Jim essentially has his run of the ship, but he’s still at the mercy of the automated access provided by the price level at which he booked his ticket. Everything is so close and yet so far away in this TWILIGHT ZONE-like scenario.
That Jim would choose to subject someone else to the same fate is understandable even if it is a morally indefensible choice. Desperation can make fools of us all, and his situation would be enough to push anyone to the edge. The problem for PASSENGERS is not the decision Jim makes but how it deals with the repercussions of his actions. Morten Tyldum’s direction and Jon Spaihts’ screenplay view Jim as a romantic hero. They allow Aurora to have her time to feel angry and betrayed, but ultimately the film treats Jim as Adam if he didn’t need God’s intervention to provide him with a companion. PASSENGERS implicitly states that Jim deserves Aurora, an aspect that gets magnified with Pratt’s puppy dog charms.
PASSENGERS also bungles the ending. Even being exceedingly generous in allowing how Aurora might come to reevaluate the state of things, what she decides rings false. On a dramatic level it also clanks because the opportunity for Jim to atone for his sins is dismissed in favor of rewarding him. PASSENGERS’ tone deafness mistakes feelings of male entitlement for romance. The saying goes that all’s fair in love and war, but that sentiment can justify horrors. If the film were capable of viewing the story through Aurora’s lens, PASSENGERS might have succeeded. Instead it doesn’t notice the warped perspective.