Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Written By: Jon Spaihts
Runtime: 116 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Chris Pratt – James Preston
Aurora Lane – Jennifer Lawrence
Michael Sheen – Arthur
Laurence Fishburne – Gus Mancuso
Aurora Perrineau – Celeste
Andy Garcia – Captain Norris
The new sci-fi picture Passengers is an interesting, albeit flawed, look at the long-term psychological effects of human isolation or just what it would mean for an average joe to lose basic human contact at all. In Passengers, Chris Pratt’s James Preston is one such average joe, an Earthling who has been given a discount ride to a new human colony to put his transferring mechanical engineering skills to good use. The problem? The new human colony of Homestead II is a 120-year space flight away, and some type of malfunction has awoken him 90 years too early.
At first, Pratt tries to come to grips with his very unique problem. The ship’s life-support and human cruise ship style luxuries are in working order. He has food to eat and plenty to drunk, or rather to get stinking drunk. He attempts to use his mechanical knowhow to reach the crew the bridge and the crew’s sleeping pods, but to no avail. However, none of the computer AI programs or customer service facilities have any emergency protocols or information that explain his grave dilemma. While the luxury starship Avalon has over 5,000 people on board, including crewmen, they are still frozen in cryogenic sleep for over 100 years. That means Jim would have to spend the rest of his natural life on a spaceship with no other human contact, save for the ship’s barkeep android, Arthur. Eventually, the isolation becomes too much for Jim to bear, and he’s driven to the brink of suicide. He walks back from the ledge after discovering the sleeping pod of a beautiful woman; a writer named Aurora Lane (Lawrence). Soon, Aurora is also awoken from her long sleep, and Jim makes contact with her. However, waking up too early for an epically long space flight might soon be the least of their worries.
Obviously, there’s an issue surrounding the relation of Aurora and Jim, and some of Jim’s actions. At the same time, while there is a deeply questionable moral decision made by one of the lead characters, it’s not necessarily to the detriment of the story. It shouldn’t be taboo for films to feature characters who make morally questionable and even potentially reprehensible decisions. Just because they do, it doesn’t necessarily make them bad characters. It doesn’t mean the movie is automatically bad.
That said, it’s easy to understand how people can take issue with the questionable decision that’s made in this film. On the other hand, that’s not all there is to the story. There is more going on outside of a simply the isolation in space. There is an interesting look at corporate hubris, and how customer service is often not very customer friendly or downright not helpful at all. Some of the more amusing moments in Passengers feature Jim fruitlessly attempting to reason with chipper AI programs who have one billion uses except the one he so desperately needs.
The first chunk of the story explores Pratt dealing with his inexplicable isolation on a luxury spacecraft, and that provides the story’s best results. Pratt plays the shy but likable introvert very well. But, he also expresses how humans were not meant to live alone or without human contact their entire lives. He’s been stranded on a deserted island like in Castaway or Robinson Crusoe, except this is an island smack dab in the empty vacuum of space. There are 5,000 other people on board that he can’t really wake up, or can he? Even then, that’s not the complete story.
Eventually, Aurora Lane comes into the picture, and the two form a relationship. At this point, the film offers an interesting shift in perspectives for Lane as her own is imbued into the narrative. The ultimate dilemma of what Aurora and Jim have to ultimately come to grips with is where Passengers really shine.
Where the film falters is that there isn’t a greater mystery at work. Well, there is a bit of a mystery to the characters throughout the film, but the audience is already completely aware of it from the first scene on. The story shows its hand a bit too early for what could’ve been more interesting reveals later on. The points being debated about as plot twists are really not treated as such in a narrative sense at all.
Where the film is less effective is not fleshing out certain ideas and taking them further. Specifically, Jim’s decision to leave Earth was out of a feeling of obsolescence. Earth no longer had a need for people who fix things. Old and broken things are just thrown away and replaced by new models. Jim sees going to a new planet as a means to find a place where his skills could be of some use. However, it does raise the question, why is Jim in such a profession in a world where such things are of little to no use? Either way, it would’ve been nice to learn more about Jim’s background and what led him to make such a radical decision. Additionally, the plot could’ve taken his involuntary isolation and psychological breakdown a little further. On Aurora’s part, there’s a small hint that there was a deeper reason for her own decision to make an interstellar journey lasting hundreds of years, but it’s glossed over.
There is also that questionable moral issue, and it’s really not clear Passengers handles it the best way. At the same time, expecting human beings to always make the most sane, rational choices when being thrust in situations that are the exact opposite of sane and rational is silly. However, the resolution to the moral dilemma is wrapped up in a way that feels a little too convenient, and where the film slightly suffers.
As a director, Morten Tyldum definitely provides an interesting vision at commercial interstellar travel. While there is a lot of weird fictional science on display, Tyldum gives it a nice, grounded and natural quality. It feels believable. The more visual sequences are nicely staged, between some space walks around the Avalon station, and also a sequence where Aurora is swimming and the gravity goes haywire.