Passengers is equal parts space opera and sci-fi love story. The picture follows a pair of passengers on a migratory starship who are awakened 90 years before they reach their destination — a terraformed new world. Left to their own devices, Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) must find a way to come to terms with living a very different lifetime than they signed up for, and doing so utterly alone.
The critical reception around this picture has been brutal thus far, and not entirely without reason. (We’ll get there.) But, rather than add to the chorus of dissent, pointing out the same flaws so many others have, we’ve decided to do what we do best. Discuss. Because, you know what? Messy as it is, Passengers inspired a lot of conversation for us, and we can’t help but unpack it. I know I have a lot to say, but possibly not as much as my partner in crime, Annemarie. Take us away, AM.
A: First of all, visually speaking, this film is stunning. I don’t know what deep space looks like, but if it’s anything like what we see here, I’d love to go. It draws tears from both Jim and Aurora it’s so stunning. The reason I liked this film so much is that it makes you think about what you’d do in Jim’s situation. He discovers that he has the ability to open up the pods, and he also discovers Aurora is not only physically his dream girl, but he genuinely comes to love her through her applicant videos and writings. He tries not to do it, but in the end, he can’t resist. A lonely man, a drowning man, will always pull someone down with him to save himself. It’s human nature. I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same thing.
Brooke, what are your initial thoughts on the film?
B: First, I agree that there is some real beauty to this film, and some quite solid effects work. I think that Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are both performers of a caliber that they can actually carry this narrative. That’s no small task. I find the concept fascinating, but I do have some lingering issues that are tough to get by. First, the dialogue. It’s so wooden, stiff and awkward that there are moments when it absolutely pulled me out of everything.
Then there is the question of morality in this picture. Everything is driving us to empathize with Jim. But I really struggle to get past what the larger trajectory says about consent. So he finds his Sleeping Beauty in a desperate mental state, he fixates on her and comes to believe that he is in love with her. So he sabotages her entire future. At one point, Aurora calls this murder, and she’s right. In making that decision, Jim took Aurora’s life. And we see him struggle with it. But we also see a love story play out between them. It’s a story that’s often very sweet, but I have to say it becomes uncomfortable when we remember how Aurora came to this point. Jim had a choice. Aurora had none. In many ways, this film could be read as a portrait of Stockholm Syndrome.These are the thoughts that keep coming back to me as I consider this story.
Now, I love a picture that gives me reason to think deeply, but I’m not sure I’ll fully reconcile what we’re presented with here. Shoving down these objections, (thought I do want some AM thoughts) I do have some other things that we must discuss. First, let’s talk about the concept. We’ve seen isolation explored in a lot of ways on screen before. That we’re in a starship for this story delivers some new options, but I do think there are some missed opportunities. For instance, I would love to see a scene of Jim preparing for his date with Aurora by prying Arthur from his post at the bar and taking him on a shoplifting spree. What say you, AM — what was your favorite element in this arena? What do you wish they had explored further?
A: Taking away someone’s options in life is a powerful thing. Jim was playing God in many ways, and I can’t imagine having to make that decision and I’m honestly not sure how I’d decide to go. On one hand, you are doomed to a solitary life in which you’ll likely go crazy because you know you’ll die of old age before any other human alive wakes up. I think the temptation of having five THOUSAND people so close to you yet so far away would be excruciatingly difficult to resist. Aurora has every reason to hate Jim and curse his decision, but ultimately she has to live with it because he took her control from her. That wouldn’t be easy but how can you not do it, given he’s the only other person you’ll ever know or see?
The Sleeping Beauty reference is pretty spot-on, in that you can’t truly love someone without actually, I don’t know, talking to them. It’s the same problem I always have with the show Catfish. I can understand a long-distance relationship, and I can understand falling for someone even though you’ve never met them. But to continue that relationship for years on end without meeting? I feel sympathy for the people who are duped, but I also feel like they should have known better. (Brooke, you might have to watch an episode of Catfish if you say you don’t know what I’m talking about…)
So in a nutshell, I don’t necessarily forgive Jim for what he did, but I can understand why he did it and sympathize with him to some degree. If Tom Hanks in Castaway had had the option to wish Helen Hunt there, would he have done it? If you were married and you woke up but your spouse didn’t, should you also wake them up knowing if you don’t, you’ll die before you see them again? This is in essence why I liked this film: it brings up some interesting moral questions that we couldn’t stop talking about.
I would have liked to have seen more of the behind-the-scenes stuff, anything more that showed them adjusting to life on the ship or getting to know one another. I loved that Jim made metal crafts for Aurora, that was a pretty sweet gesture and I’m sure there were more along the way. I do agree that the dialogue got a bit wooden, but overall the chemistry between the two was wonderful to watch.
We can’t go into spoiler territory as this is a new release, but there was an interesting narrative decision that I want to talk about. The trailer leads you to believe that neither the audience nor Aurora knows why she woke up. However, the film gives us a linear narrative that shows first how Jim wakes up, how he adjusts and ultimately decides to wake Aurora up. It’s unknown to her why, but we know. Without doing the jerky film critic thing, I would have been interested to see this film play out more like the trailer, where we don’t know if Jim did it or not.
Brooke, would that have improved your impressions of the film at all? Any final thoughts?
B: Ohhhhh, I really like where you’re headed with this thought, AM. Actually, I think that’s now on my wish list of things that could have made Passengers the movie it might have been. One of the things that was lacking in terms of the relationship as it was written was any kind of dramatic tension. We always knew Aurora was going to find out somehow, but if we weren’t given that answer the question would have carried so much more dramatic weight.
I think the biggest difference maker would have been putting more faith in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. As you allude to, AM, they have a great rapport, and an interesting framework, it’s basically Titanic in space, but it feels like there wasn’t much room left for either of them to make decisions or interpretations about their characters. If Jim and Aurora were given to us a little more lived-in, a little more dynamic, we’d probably see the dialogue problems ease and get a more complete sense of their relationship. A rather great deal of time passes in the movie, but for Jim and Aurora it’s pretty much a zero-to-sixty thing, we’re left craving the ramp up. I’d gladly take more of that, more chats at the bar with Arthur and less of the action sequences, but perhaps that’s just my propensity for talk-y human dramas.
Oh, and one other thing. Let’s go ahead and embrace an R-rating for this sucker. What would Alien have been without the freedom to get really dark? All I’m saying is if I’m lost in space, there would be more than a few colorful words to be said. Rather like Jack, I would write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all of this. Deadpool proved that R-rated pictures can absolutely still make all of the dollars. If the concept is better for it, make it so.
For all of the grievances I’ve aired and all the suggestions for improvement I’ve thrown out, I have to say this, I had a blast watching this movie. In fact, I’m pretty confident it’s something I would check in on while flipping channels and disappear into for a bit. It’s an excellent conversation movie — we literally cannot stop spinning out scenarios and what ifs and the like — that gets a lift from being headlined by two of the most watchable performers working today. It’s not the movie it should have been, but without Pratt, Lawrence and Sheen, it could have been much more dire.
Passengers is a bumpy ride, but it’s one we both found worth taking.