What would you do if you were stuck in a spaceship traveling to a distant planet all by yourself? The voyage will last your entire life time, and all the other passengers are hibernating, safe and not ageing. You will most certainly die during your voyage. Would you wake someone?
Passengers is a new science fiction film directed by Morten Tildum, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane, and Chris Pratt as Jim Preston, two passengers on the Starship Avalon, transporting 5000 colonists to their new home and new lives on Homestead II. While passing through an asteroid field, the ship is damaged, causing Pratt’s hibernation pod to malfunction. It is a 120 year voyage, and he is woken up a full 90 years ahead of schedule. He can never go back to sleep.
Spending over a year in space by himself, Pratt considers ending it all before discovering Lawrence and her passenger file, a video diary of her describing who she is, her life back on Earth, and what she hopes for the future. Believing himself to be falling in love with her while she sleeps, Pratt is left with the moral question of whether or not to wake her up, condemning her to death in space, or to let her sleep and remain lonely and die?
If you’ve seen the preview, then you would know that Pratt chooses to wake Lawrence, and not spend his life alone, whatever the consequences. This happens quite early on in the film, and consequently is not the big reveal of the story that unfolds. Largely passengers is a film that deals with human loneliness, our need for connection with others, and the discovery of purpose and meaning in life. The relationship between the two leads - their search for meaning, and an appreciation for what it means to truly live is an interesting and relatively easy way for us an audience to draw parallels in our own lives about what it a fulfilling life might be.
But none of these interesting themes does anything to reduce the impact of a critical question; was Pratt's decision to wake Lawrence up right or wrong? I have read elsewhere people suggest that the act is unforgivable. He wakes her up, which is in effect sentencing her to death, therefore making the story hard to buy into. I understand this point of view, from our current world perspective, you have done the wrong thing, and any positive relationship experienced post this event is predicated on a lie (how many people do you know who are with people you think they shouldn't be with?). However, Passengers is not the real world. It is set in the vacuum of space, and we are forced to deal with moral questions in the face of a harsh environment and a stress we don't understand, a loneliness we will never experience, and a world where there is no discernible hope. Who am I to judge? Is it wrong, yes. But I have never been that desperate to have a reason to live.
Suggesting that there is no validity in the relationship has some merit, but like Plato's cave, we only know the world with which we are presented. It seems to me that Pratt's decision, while critical, is not the key question to be focused on. Rather it is the discovery of Pratt's lie that is the more critical moment to be dissected. Was the way Lawrence's character reacted believable, or enough? I can believe that someone would make a decision based on their own self interest like Pratt. What I find difficult to accept is the way the film deals with these revelations. It appears to me the use of action, an impending threat, is somehow used to solve the internal conflict for Lawrence's character after learning of Pratt's deception, rather than something more concrete and human, which would genuinely explore the consequences for such actions.
The film is visually engaging with the internal structures of the ship, and is quite detailed regarding the state of humanity and technological development. I would say that the 'outside the ship' sequences are largely underwhelming, except in moments where the shots are tighter on a character standing on the edge of the Starship. Shots out into space are somewhat unbelievable, and don’t do a lot regarding the enormity of the expanse one might look out into when looking into space. I wanted to feel more of the sensation of what would draw a person to that world, as opposed to standing on solid ground.
Michael Sheen provides a somewhat interesting comic come semi serious relief as an android bar tender named Arthur, and it is through his eyes that perhaps we get the best insights into the moral consequences for the decisions we make in our lives. It is far from a dull performance, I will say that. I only wish he wouldn’t use so many affectations in his voice when delivering lines of emphasis. When he is simple in his delivery, Sheen can be commanding. He doesn't need to layer on details that are superfluous.
Pratt and Lawrence are not spectacular in the film, rather, very serviceable. Both show range, but the script does not lend itself to exploring too much of the dramatic possibilities. Every time I thought the film would really delve into the human experience, we were gifted a montage, or a typical gear shift with some kind of obstacle that requires immediate attention. It left me unfulfilled. Both are very quick witted actors, with a flare for either comedy or moments that are larger than life. But both have a depth to them, which is so often rarely prodded out in any meaningful way. Directors need to do more.
Overall I found the ethical and moral themes presented by the film very interesting, and it certainly has given me a lot to think about. However, too often the potential for depth is overlooked for the sake of action. I would very much enjoy it if science fiction film makers took a leaf out of Steve McQueen's book in the film Hunger, and just let the camera sit on actors for longer periods of time without feeling the need to have 20 different edit points. Less is more.
Rod @ Lovesac