By: Kevin Jordan
Are we there yet?
The best science fiction usually focuses on a question or topic having to do with psychology or society and dressing it in technology or science and placing it in a fictional world. District 9 tackled apartheid through the lens of alien refugees living in slums. Interstellar wondered if humans were capable of saving themselves when staring extinction in the face. Most recently, Arrival took a look at xenophobia and how fear of the unknown makes people do really stupid things. This week, Passengers asks what you would do if you accidentally woke up from stasis 30 years into a 120-year flight? If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I have a soft spot for science fiction and this film sat right on that spot.
(I really liked this movie, so I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but there are a couple I cannot avoid. So, see this movie, then come back. I’ll wait *wink*.)
That’s the question facing Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) when his stasis pod malfunctions and wakes him up way too early (89 years and 8 months too early). The ship he is on is carrying 5000 passengers and over 250 crewmembers, all of whom are in stasis for the long journey to a colony planet called Homestead II. The very first question you will ask as an audience member is: can he go back into stasis? No, he can’t and the movie explains why (lack of required equipment). Then, you will ask why they wouldn’t have spares on this trip or the necessary equipment, to which the answer is the pods have never malfunctioned and include multiple redundant failsafes. Guess who just won the galaxy’s worst lottery? Also, this movie is taking care of potential plot holes, which I couldn’t be happier about.
Being a mechanic, Jim does exactly what you expect he would do – try to solve the problem. He tries to fix the pod, rig the pod to restart, access the crew quarters where the crew is (passengers are denied access), look for spares, and look for alternatives. This goes on for more than a year, during which time he frequents the ship’s bar and talks with the closest thing to a conscious human on the ship – an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). As his efforts continue to fail, we see him losing hope both mentally and physically and we are laser-focused on that question – if you were alone a ship in space knowing you would die before getting to your destination, what would you do? Your choices are wake someone else up, commit suicide, or continue living alone with no purpose and limited activities at your disposal (a fun detail they add is that he is the equivalent of economy class, so doesn’t have access to many of the things on the ship), constantly thinking of the other two choices.
Since you’ve seen the previews and know Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, you know what choice he makes. Like I said, I really liked this movie, but I think there were two missed opportunities in this film. The first has to do with waking someone up. During his hopelessness, he stumbles across Aurora Lane’s (Lawrence) pod. Since you’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence, you know how beautiful she is, especially in this movie as a first-class passenger, so you’ll understand that Jim starts researching her. Seriously, she is gorgeous in this film; you’d do the same thing. Anyway, if I could have contributed to this story, I would have had Jim investigating all of the passengers and just zeroing in on Aurora. And, maybe, in the long version of this story, he does. If it were me on that ship, that’s what I’d have done in my boredom. To me, this would have added much more depth to the feelings he developed for her prior to waking her up. It also would have added some potential fun as he learned about other passengers.
The thing you need to know about this movie is that the surface story is a romance. You probably already know this because you’ve seen the trailers. That being the case, it follows the standard romance formula. Meeting, getting to know each other, falling in love, break-up, attempt at redemption. The second missed opportunity happens during the break-up and it’s that the movie doesn’t spend enough time during this phase. I know that’s also standard romance movie procedure, but this movie’s main premise is delving into the psychology of the situation and this is a fascinating component of this scenario. (SPOILER) After learning the truth about how she woke up, Aurora is confronted with just as difficult a choice as Jim, but with a bonus choice. Commit suicide, wake someone else up, spend the rest of her life alone on the ship (she at least has more entertainment choices due to her class), or take Jim back. Considering that Jim gave her a death sentence by waking her up, you can understand how pissed off she would be at him, but after time, she was going to end up in the same position as him. How great would it have been to see her struggling with herself as she begun to rationalize Jim’s despair and loneliness as she experienced it herself?
For as much time as the film spent with Jim, an equal amount of time should have been spent with Aurora. Instead, the film jumps to the big event that allows Jim the opportunity to redeem himself. Of course, this being a spaceship movie, and given that the film sprinkles in shots of the ship’s computer depicting more and more ship failures (the movie starts with the ship getting hit by a meteor, which is what led to Jim’s pod malfunction), that event is obviously Jim trying to save the ship from exploding. Plus, you’ve seen the trailers so you already know they have to deal with the ship failures. I never said this movie wasn’t predictable.
Based on all that, the movie sounds decent at best, but what elevated this movie for me were the stunning visuals of the interior and exterior of the ship and the performances of the three main actors (Laurence Fishburne enters in the third act, playing a crew member). I liked the story and the first and second acts were done quite well (the third act was a little over-the-top, but still fine). Pratt did a fantastic job of emoting despair, then emoting the internal torture of his decision before and after waking Aurora. Lawrence equaled Pratt and more (her reaction to the truth was so perfect it was almost scary) and their chemistry together was amazing. There’s also an extremely cool and slightly terrifying swimming pool scene. Put all that together and you’ve got a very good movie that can sit on my spot as long as it wants.
Rating: Worth your money with or without a soft spot.