tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Passengers’ is Problematic to the Core

This film might be set in the future, but its values feel terribly regressive.

NBHD movie 2 ticketsPassengers is set aboard a spaceship carrying five thousand would-be planetary settlers in suspended animation. The film begins with the said ship going through an asteroid field. This results in passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) waking up from his hibernation ninety years too early into a schedule 120-year trip. For a while, the film follows Jim as he tries to find a solution to this very unique problem. And failing that, the film tracks Jim’s slow descent as the isolation starts to take its toll.

And then things take a turn. At some point, Jim catches sight of fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), still in her hibernation pod. Jim is smitten, and is then faced with an impossible moral dilemma: he knows how to wake her up, but in so doing he would doom her to the same fate that he’s facing. The film doesn’t take too long, however, to mull over this choice. Though conflicted, Jim ultimately chooses to wake Aurora up, and he feigns innocence as he begins a strange, isolated courtship in the darkness of space.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-46-14-am
With the film quickly establishing that there isn’t really any way for them to get back into hibernation, the romance between the two characters becomes the main focus, with Jim’s initial betrayal casting a dark cloud over everything. Except the movie doesn’t really play up the creepiness inherent to his choice. It takes pains to show that he was conflicted in making that choice, and that at heart, even though what he did is not okay, he’s still just a nice guy at heart. The depth of the betrayal is ultimately deflected as the film sends its characters off to deal with a catastrophe, their various interpersonal problems suppressed in the name of making repairs.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-43-50-amThere’s a lot to like on the surface of this movie. It has a nice, shiny setting that nicely imagines the details of the future of commercial space travel. The camerawork is clean and functional, ably capturing both the scale of the environment and the strange intimacy that grows between the characters. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are both terribly charming. Pratt will always be an appealing presence on screen, and Lawrence is the type of actress that can take a sliver of emotion and turn it into something heart-rending.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-47-48-amBut look any deeper, and the film reveals a rotten core. The film seems to spend its time trying to justify the initial unforgiveable act of betrayal. It ends up painting this whole ordeal as something worth aspiring to, rather than the violation that it began as. It feels like a failure of gumption, because this same premise could have been pushed into other, more interesting directions. To paint it as a redemptive romance feels wrongheaded. This film might be set in the future, but its values feel terribly regressive.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-48-32-am
Passengers feels like it’s just telling the wrong story. It doesn’t really reckon with the wrongness of what its main character does. It keeps painting him as a well-meaning puppy dog that just made one wrong choice. But everything after that choice is also a betrayal. And in telling the story that it does, the film makes its female character feel like even more of a victim than she already is. She becomes little more than an indicator for Jim’s emotional journey, the external source of approval that will ultimately signify the end of his journey. Because it doesn’t really matter what she went through. What matters more is that Jim is really just a nice guy.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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