Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Laurence Fishburne
Studio: Sony Pictures
Don’t you just love things that aren’t merely predictable and simply what they first appear to be? Don’t get me wrong, some bombshells can leave a bitter taste whilst others can be mysterious, intriguing and leave a lingering and thought-provoking impact for you to mull over for days after their initial shocking hit. Passengers was one such long-lasting and captivating surprise.
From the onset and trailer I had assumed Passengers was your usual sci-fi snap, crackle and pop with shiny futuristic tech, spaceships and an evil alien plot to sabotage human life. Although no aliens are actually seen in the trailer, Chris Pratt hauntingly whispering: ‘there’s a reason we woke up early’ at the end certainly hints at something sinister. However, without too many spoilers, the film takes a very different direction, sending viewers on a journey of morally-questioning and ethically-iffy decisions in a story of love and torment (indeed, with cool futuristic gadgets and a sublime spaceship thrown into the mix).
The plot itself is a simple one but a story that poses such a terrifying prospect that, if done right, is enough to carry the film to acclaim. In a future where Earth’s overpopulation has taken its inevitable toll on resources, colonists board luxury starships to start brand new lives on other viable planets. One such space vessel is the Avalon, carrying 5000 passengers and around 200 crew members on a 120-year journey to new home and planet, Homestead II. While travelling, all passengers and crew are frozen in a coma-like stasis of suspended-animation…that is until engineer Jim Preston’s (Chris Pratt) pod malfunctions awakening him.
After a year of onboard entertainment games, a swimming pool, cinema and various other activities to occupy his mind and only a courteous and affable bar-tending android named Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company, Jim finally gives in to the temptation of waking fellow passenger and writer Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) up from her imposed slumber, hungry for human contact.
In case you haven’t already guessed, the ‘waking up’ part of suspended animation is irreversible, you can’t simply go back to catching some zzzs so effectively Jim has sentenced Aurora to his fate of lonely and eternal entrapment or ‘murder’ as she later brands it- all because he indulged his selfish desire for companionship and fell in love with Aurora after pouring over her personal file and passenger application interview. But was it selfish?
Throughout the narrative is a slow one, perhaps too slow a pace, but that’s to be expected with such a small cast, given that two people can only give so much and bring so much to the acting table. Two maybe less lonely than one but even then limitations exist. There’s only so many conversations you can have, so many ideas you can come up with and so many notions you can ponder within a single pair. A gradual narrative does serve the purpose of endearing viewers to Pratt’s character. Perhaps we don’t know as much about him as we do about Aurora and as a protagonist he could have been better developed but still, you have to be pretty cold not to feel sorry for the guy and at least empathize with why he wrestled with the decision to wake Aurora up.
Being alone is portrayed brilliantly by Pratt. Memories of I Am Legend and The Martian are evoked as we witness Jim adjusting to his bleak situation, through the stages of denial, problem-solving, hope, having fun and taking advantage of his predicament to eventual helplessness and progressive insanity. It’s only when he’s on the cusp of suicide does Jim awaken Aurora making his choice understandable at the very least.
No matter what you think of his morally-dodgy decision, this powerful movie makes you question yourself. What would you be capable of if you were pushed to the brink of desperation, with no one to answer to and nobody to hold you accountable? Would you do it?
The acting is impressive. Some scenes are incredibly raw, with Jim on the verge of suicide, the suspense of Aurora finding out the true reason behind her awakening and her pure anguish when she discovers the truth. It was also interesting seeing and comparing how the two came to terms with their grim isolation in different ways, both becoming extremely dependent on one another.
My only criticism is that the introduction of the ship’s Chief Deck Officer (Lawrence Fishburne) was a little willy-nilly with his character lacking much substance. Yes, the story needed moving on and his character, Gus helped move it forward but his appearance did seem too fleeting and a tad random. The ending was also somewhat lacking, making the overall film sag a little in the ‘wow’ department tying everything into too much of a neat and convenient bow. Beyond that, with various visual effects spectacles, some humour mixed in and stirring themes, Passengers was an utterly compelling and exhilarating watch that promises to have you transfixed.