Passengers (2016): 7/10

Starring two already established Hollywood Stars, namely Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, Passengers is a sci-fi film taking place entirely in a spaceship that is set to arrive at its destination within the next century. The starship Avalon is boarded by 5,000 passengers and crew members, all sedated into an induced coma for the duration of the century-long journey. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), however, find themselves woken up with 90 years left before the ship lands at a fictional planet called Homestead II. Passengers, which premiered last December, has been nominated for Best Original Score and Best Production Design at the 89th Academy Awards.

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Passengers perhaps may already be a cliche, and every possible stranded-on-a-spaceship film has already been written and produced. However,  I still happened to have found the film to be enjoyable which, to me, is a pleasant surprise seeing as I like neither science fiction nor cliches. The reason for which I liked Passengers was more than just Chris Pratt’s naked butt being flashed at the screen in all its perky and flushed glory, but because of the struggles of Jim in trying to cope with solitude and how the film showed that his selfishness was an inherent part of human nature. It was interesting to see how here was a man, all alone surrounded by nothing but lifeless machines, was not in a struggle of trying to keep his own humanity but to cope with it.

Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora was alright but I have to say Chris Pratt had totally stolen the show, not just because Chris Pratt’s character was given more screen time but because it was his flaw and humanity that really got to me. Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora was also well-written but wasn’t all that striking or interesting.

The writing in the film wasn’t the best I’ve encountered but it wasn’t unpleasant at all. Chris Pratt’s acting was commendable. His sadness, his loneliness, his guilt, his shame, it was all on point. It was very hard to pity Jim the mechanical engineer but it was also very hard to blame him for it either, for it was the very nature of human kind that brought him to that decision and I think, given the chance, many of us would act on as well. Because, truly, what lengths would we go to just to ensure our survival?

Although I was not in full support of the ending as I found it to be just a tad bit impractical, it is, however, ultimately believable and realistic (especially for the romantics). I still find the entire plot to be tragic with some very interesting points that I’ll discuss later on.

Overall, the film did pleasantly surprise me. If you’re looking for an adventurous and romantic sci-fi film with two white and famous Hollywood stars that isn’t too heavy with a happy ending but can be dissected and analyzed deeper, Passengers is definitely the film to watch.

Note: From here on, this will not be a spoiler-free review. So if you have not watched the film and do not wish to be spoiled, then do not read further than here. 

I’ll now dive deeper and discuss certain points of the film that have interested me and have garnered a few insights and comments from this judgmental brain of mine:

  • Jim’s time in solitude

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For the duration of a year and three weeks, Jim Preston is left on his own to inhabit the ship with only an android named Arthur to keep him company. Although Avalon is a high-class ship, Jim is not a high-class passenger. He, however, makes a home for himself in one of the ship’s suites by breaking into one with his convenient mechanical engineering skills and hammer.

His first few weeks at the ship is blissful, enjoying all the amenities offered by the ship to its passengers. The sleekness, the technology, and the access to such: these are all glorified during the beginning of his stay. However, the novelty of these things soon disappears, leaving Jim in a state of loneliness and dissatisfaction. This is because even though he may have satisfied his physiological needs, his need for affection and love and company is one that remains unfulfilled and therefore leaves him restless. At one point he stops taking showers, shaving, and lets his hair grow in full homelessness fashion.

He constantly craves for the company of his own kind and his loneliness eats him up from the inside out. Jim at that state reminded me of a neglected Sim with his social and hygiene need at its lowest point. It was almost comical had it not been so pitiful to see how Chris Pratt acted it out, especially when Jim had literally been standing on the edge, one pull of the lever away from taking his own life and ending it all. And this leads him to waking up another passenger, Aurora Lane, a writer he had taken an interest in a few weeks prior to his suicide attempt.

  • The Contemplation and the Action

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By no means do I condone nor support the act Jim did (which was to wake Aurora up and therefore, sentence her to a life stranded aboard the ship) but I do believe that it was a very human thing for him to do. I say this in the sense that Jim, on the brink of taking his own life, had to wake Aurora up because he knew that not doing so would lead him to his death.

Backtrack a few weeks where Jim first notices Aurora, suitably named so as she was Jim’s Sleeping Beauty. This is where his obsession with her starts. He looks her up, finds out she’s a writer, sits beside her pod as he eats while watching her  interviews. He begins to romanticize her and ends up deciding that he has fallen in love with her without so much as a conversation passing between them, not taking into account that a person’s TV personality is a lot different from who they really are.

He goes back and forth contemplating whether or not to wake her up, knowing that if he were to wake her up, he would be sentencing her to a life on that ship with him, stranded, never to land at Homestead II. His morality and desire give him a new reason to be in a constant state of unrest. Eventually, he decides against it and wills himself to forget Aurora and to leave her be in her slumber.

However, on the day he almost killed himself, a state wherein he was at his lowest, at his most vulnerable, when he no longer thought he could survive, his morality wavered and he programmed Aurora’s pod to wake her up with 90 years left on their voyage. Jim wasn’t an inherently bad person but his momentary lapse in judgment sentenced Aurora to a horrible fate. He was given the opportunity to play God and in ensuring his own survival, he risked the survival of another. And acting upon his desires, Jim’s loneliness is then replaced by guilt. The man can never win.

What really gets to me is that there had been 5,000 passengers on that ship and Jim takes an interest in Aurora and only Aurora, beautiful and young and perfect. Had it been companionship he were looking for then the other 4,999 passengers would have been alright but he chose Aurora, forced upon her his own survival. Jim didn’t want companionship, else he would have just woken up the rest of the passengers sleeping. He wanted someone to share in his loneliness, in his fate, in his sentence, and he found Aurora to be someone who could give him that, amidst the love that he craved for.

  • Arthur the Android Butler

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It was such an interesting thing to have witnessed Arthur. Props to Michael Sheen for such a pleasant and realistic portrayal of such a role. Arthur had not been the cliche android that would magically acquire human emotion despite being devoid of any humanness and I think that Arthur being like that was a central piece of the film. Had he not been so human in looks yet machine in thought, then the entire film would have all been for naught.

Arthur understands only little of any form of ethical systems that Jim and Aurora abide by. He is capable of neither guilt nor shame, and fails to see the bad in things which is why he is unable to empathize with Jim in his struggle of loneliness. Arthur contrasts so much with Jim that each interaction between the two only fuels further Jim’s need for human companionship. Jim is unable to find someone that is able to connect and relate to him, and as such he feels lonelier, as Arthur is only able to offer him a shallow reprieve from social deprivation.

  • Aurora’s Forgiveness

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12/10 did not expect them to live happily ever after on the ship. However, they did live together happily for about a year before things went sour and I suppose Aurora had unavoidably fallen in love with Jim within that time frame, given that he was literally her last option if she wanted any form of love or affection whatsoever before she died. I suppose in desperation, people can forgive other people for grave mistakes. Except still I can’t fathom how one could forgive a person for deciding your entire fate, basically giving you a death sentence, dooming you to a life of solitude and sailing but never landing, and then lying about it. I didn’t know exactly what I was rooting for, if it had been Aurora’s forgiveness or Jim’s redemption but I suppose I can never bring myself to hate Jim, especially given how he was portrayed. Damn you, Chris Pratt!

  • Homestead’s Capitalism

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The last point that I want to mention is how the film did not exactly center on capitalism but was still seemingly built around it. The starship Avalon is one that is luxurious and high-end. However, its complete amenities may only be experienced by those who paid the price for it. Both Jim and the chief deck officer Gus are subject to a small cabin with acceptable living accommodations and mediocre meals while Aurora, a gold-class passenger, receives a beautiful suite with luxurious meals all the time.

A conversation between Jim and Aurora transpires wherein Aurora tells him of how the Homestead company has made millions of billions off of people from the first planet they made, whereas Jim replies with how he is willing to pay such a price for the chance at a new life. This is where perception plays a part in determining one’s reality.

Aurora, despite herself having boarded the ship and paying for a gold class ticket, is aware of the capitalistic practices of the Homestead company. Even still, she boards the ship in the hopes of fulfilling a goal she sets for herself as a writer. Jim, a working class mechanical engineer, who did not see through the profit-oriented goals of the company, merely saw it as an opportunity to build a new life. He saw it as a fair and just deal, even if he has to give up 20% of his profit when he starts earning at Homestead II.

This doesn’t differ much from the reality we face wherein people are attracted by the city lights and let themselves be consumed with the idea of a promising and fulfilling life, only to be victims of a society that only benefits the ones on top. What’s ironic is how even though you’ve already paid the price for the destination, you end up getting stranded in the journey, losing a lot more than what you bargained for.