Passengers – Movie Review
Rating: B+ (Very Good)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures
Passengers is a film where the premise could come across as creepy to many. The very idea of a man waking a woman up from a hibernation without her permission with them being the only people around is certainly something that sounds un-appealing. However, the film is self-aware in how it tackles this idea and throughout the entire picture, the main character is constantly wrestling with himself and guilty of his actions. Passengers is not a standard love story and through much of it, Chris Pratt’s Jim Preston is separated from Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora Lane. This is not meant to be a science-fiction breeze and is more in line with the thoughtful and philosophical genre entries of the 1970s.
Passengers is clearly divided into three distinct acts. The beginning is primarily Jim by himself, woken up too early. At first, the script plays this for laughs and screenwriter Jon Spaihts has fun with the premise as Jim interacts with the various rooms and androids on board. However, the emotional toil eventually starts affecting our lead and that’s when the moral dilemmas begin. With only a gentlemanly bartender robot to converse with, Jim is frequently at odds with himself and questioning his decisions. The isolation and loneliness is well portrayed in the film and it becomes that classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. This is not a thoughtless character as he goes through months questioning the right decision. Viewers might watch the screen and think to themselves “of course, I wouldn’t do that”, but they are not in Jim’s shoes. Even he is aware of the creepiness factor in what he is thinking of doing and there are frequent hesitations.
Even after he wakes up Aurora, there is a guilt running through his face. Pratt conveys that brilliantly and the film is smart enough to not immediately jump into a romance. Director Morten Tyldum also offers enough scenes between the love making and cuddling to show his constant uncertainty with himself and inner disappointment for potentially ruining this woman’s life. When she is woken up, most of the film’s sympathies are clearly with her and when the truth inevitably comes out, Lawrence showcases the proper horror and repulsion at the situation. The third act is one where Jim and Aurora are frequently faced with dilemmas and problems, where they do have to work together and her flaws also start to come out. Passengers is very much a film about two flawed human beings faced with constant questions of right and wrong.
Tyldum and Spaihts’s love for 1970s science-fiction (and a bit of Wall-E, too) is evident in not only the philosophical questions, but also the look of Passengers. The ship is an impressively realised set with every room clearly thought out and also playing with the idea of class and money still being a major status symbol in the future. The special effects artists have brought a real beauty to the stars and one of the most stunning sequences has Jim and Aurora put on space suits and float around outside. This scene will invite the most comparisons to Wall-E, as helped by Thomas Newman’s familiar score. A scene in which the gravity stops working also gives visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby a lot of room to be creative with the possibilities.
It would have been easy to turn Passengers into a pulpy romance in the stars and while one can certainly imagine the pages of this story filling a worn-out paperback, it’s a lot smarter than that. It probably takes the most inspiration from Douglas Trumbull’s film Silent Running, in which a man finds himself alone in space with his robot companions. However, the film avoids turning Jim into a conceited individual and he feels the repercussions of his actions even long after things blow up in his face. The screenplay asks these questions of morality and the characters wrestle with decisions through their many years, much like we do. They just happen to be in a closed off environment and that ups the tension further.
About Stefan Ellison
Stefan Ellison has had a passion for cinema since an early age. A graduate of York University, he likes creating stories just as much as writing movie reviews. For the past number of years, he has also become a viral video distributor, exploring the bold and exciting world of the online new media revolution. Stefan is also an enthusiast in the art of animation, constantly researching the historical aspects of the medium, whether it involves finding out who animated Mickey Mouse or what type of plasticine was used for Wallace & Gromit.
Regardless of whether a film was made to win awards or throw explosions at the screen, Stefan will watch it.