This first section at least is spoiler-free. To set the proper expectation for this movie, you should know that it is not just a pretty space movie with both romantic and disaster elements to it, a la the movie Speed. It is more like Groundhog Day, in that it is a story of a flawed human being put in an impossibly isolating situation and struggling through it. I highly recommend seeing it, and really thinking about what you would do under that same pressure.
As soon as I heard about the movie Passengers, I was pretty sure I’d go see it in theaters. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in space? Yes, please. It made me think there was just some savvy producer out there, chewing on a cigar, yelling at his assistant, ordering up a movie that would sell. Good script? Who needs it. Both actors are charismatic on and off the screen, people will go see it. And when it came out to tepid reviews I figured that’s what had happened. But I wanted to see it, and see it on the big screen. By the time I did, some minor spoilers had found me – one review headline I saw called it “Titanic – but in space!” which doesn’t bode well for our main characters making it out alive. And one of my friends told me she found out the storyline and now refused to see it, which gave me the impression that something decidedly anti-feminist happens.
From here on out, spoilers abound…
Now that I’ve seen it, I can see where my friend is coming from. If you were told “A guy wakes up early on a space voyage, gets lonely, finds a hot chick and decides to wake her up” it could put you off. And it is off-putting to watch Chris Pratt’s character Jim do exactly that. I literally yelled “Creepy!” at the screen at one point, I’m sure to the annoyance of the friend I was sitting next to. On my other side was my husband, who’s used to me sharing such opinions out loud. Anyway, the movie does confront his decision and its aftermath, and I think it deserves credit for that. Laurence Fishburne’s character says it best – “Damn.”
Maybe it’s my job that makes me more ready than the average person to accept what he does, and admit that I would have done the same. I live in semi-isolation for months at a time, and have dealt with loneliness that feels crushing. Faced with 90 years of complete isolation (the man at one point hugs a space suit, the closest thing to human contact he’s had), I would have gone through each and every step that he did – disbelief, hopelessness, problem-solving, living it up, eating everything in sight, suicidal thoughts, finding hope in a human connection and learning about my fellow passengers, and ultimately making a selfish choice to not be alone. (This part of the movie hits many of the same notes as the excellent Groundhog Day, which only recommends it more in my opinion.) And I think Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora (a bit on the nose with the Sleeping Beauty reference, but hey) would have done the same too, which is the key point. In fact, it’s not unlikely that she would have woken Jim up specifically. I know if it were me, I would look for a good-looking bearded man who was good at fixing things.
The screenwriters were not lazy about it, they had answers for all the questions I could think of. Really, there’s no fail-safe in place to help? Nope, nothing like this has ever happened – here’s your Titanic moment – the hibernation pods “never fail.” The computer is as unhelpful as automated customer service lines usually are (there’s no pressing zero to speak to a real person), and communication back to Earth is slow.
Can’t he just wake up a crew member? Nope, those hibernation pods are behind a locked door. He tries to get through, with no success.
Can’t he just go back into hibernation? Nope, there’s no facilities for that onboard. Jim is a mechanic and finds a manual for the pods, so if it were possible, he would figure it out.
And Aurora thinks of all these things when, after a year alone, he wakes her up. Jim lets her go through the whole process.
And why her? This could have been flushed out a bit more, and perhaps it is in deleted scenes. He has access to interviews with the other passengers about why they’ve decided to take a 120 year break in their lives and colonize a new planet. She’s a writer, and he reads everything she’s ever written. He can get to know her without her being awake, there simply wouldn’t be that opportunity with someone in a different profession.
Jim has let Aurora believe that a computer malfunction woke them both up. A year in, when she finds out that he woke her up, she is furious and processes the betrayal by alternately cutting off all contact, calling him a murderer, physically attacking him – it’s a complicated response from what feels like a very real character. And he feels all the guilt that we as the audience believe he deserves to. It is not ok, and the movie covers that. The scenes leading up to him tampering with her pod and waking her up are hard to watch. He grapples with the idea, tries to forget it, knows it’s a horrible thing to do to someone, but in the end does it anyway.
What brings them back together is the appearance of a third human, the second one to have a faulty pod wake them up. At this point the story needed someone who could mediate Jim and Aurora’s relationship, someone who could access the rest of the ship, and someone who wouldn’t stick around too long – and Laurence Fishburne played all three roles spectacularly. Because of him, both characters get validation of their feelings and actions, his crew badge gets them access to engineering spaces where the ship’s malfunctions become clear, and – because of a faulty pod that woke him up wrong – he soon dies and they’re left alone together again.
It is through him they learn that the ship is failing and will kill the 5,000 passengers and 238 crew members onboard, but also how to find the fault and fix it. In doing that, they come together again. And there’s nothing new in that – movies have been using disasters to couple up two strangers, or bring back together people on the verge of a breakup, for decades. On the way home, my husband mentioned Stockholm Syndrome and I’d had the nagging feeling during a certain scene as well. But in the moment where circumstances require Jim to sacrifice himself or everyone will die, and she doesn’t want to be without him, I believe it. I believe he’s a good guy and always was. I believe they were in love before she found out the truth, and I believe that they could be in love again.
Laurence Fishburne’s character gives them one last gift – a way to go back to sleep. But only for one of them. Jim is ready to put Aurora back to sleep, to give her her life back. And live out the rest of his alone. And even though I’ve given away all of the other plot points, I’m not going to say how it ends.
I haven’t read the negative reviews for this movie, but have seen headlines about the issues with morality and the creepy love story. But it is my belief that Aurora’s character would have done the same thing had she been the randomly unfortunate passenger to be woken up first. And there are 5,236 other characters who maybe would have done much worse things. Perhaps the reviews are a product of the marketing for the movie being so focused on the romantic aspects. No one was ready for creepy Chris Pratt, everything in his filmography has conditioned us to believe he is goofy and kind-hearted, and that is it. But to me that’s a fault in his previous acting credits, not in this one. There are circumstances for all of us to be capable of it, and this well-written script explores that. People went to see a movie with pretty people doing pretty things in space, and instead had to think about the human condition, and confront how long their humanity would have lasted under similar circumstances.
I really enjoyed this movie and, as you can tell, have a lot of feelings about it. I like that in a movie. Sometimes I send out discussion questions to friends after we go to the movies together. This is definitely one of those times when I want to live in this fictional universe a bit longer. I want to read Aurora’s book. I want to know what the captain and crew make of it when they wake up 88 years later. I want to know if customer service called back after 56 years. Not all movies inspire me to write posts about them, and I appreciate it when they do. And I always like science fiction movies where pretty much the only thing that is different from the present is advanced technology – we as humans still struggle.