Does Passengers complete its movie mission?
I was in a really good mood as I sat down to watch Morten Tyldum’s Passengers.
Having arrived at the cinema to the pleasant surprise that the press screening was in Gold Class, the situation was made even better when my free coffee came with really yum chocolates.
Safe to say Hollywood knows how to butter up reviewers. Even if this turns out to be a terrible movie, it’s getting a 10/10 from me.
Passengers tells the story of Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), who, while travelling the 120 year journey to a distant planet, wakes up in his glitching sleeping pod 90 years too early. Jim is distraught because a) he missed out on some great beauty sleep, and b) he is the only person awake and will likely die alone in outer space.
The narrative really wastes no time getting going, as Jim’s frantic attempts to fix his sleeping bod ensue almost instantly.
And I must admit, it is quite gripping to watch a film kick off at such a fast pace.
Soon, Jim’s beard is longer and his mind more haggard. With only a robot bartender to talk to, he becomes desperate, and finds himself wanting to commit suicide. But before launching himself dangerously into oblivion, his eyes land on a sleeping beauty: Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane.
Jim quickly falls in love with her personality (sarcasm), and battles with his moral dilemma over whether to wake her up or not. The question is genuinely challenging: Would you rather die alone, or would you rather take somebody else’s life to improve your own?
As you can probably tell from the trailers, promotional images, and just basic Hollywood common sense, he wakes her up.
Then there’s some love stuff, some fighting stuff, some shit hitting the fan stuff, a mix of all three stuff, and then the end.
The story is stuck between two universes.
Now, I think the idea to create a sci-fi love story is a really good one. In a world of over done, underwhelming movies, to create something relatively new is almost impossible. Blending the massively popular sci-fi and romance genres seems logical, as well as exciting.
And for a very pretty half an hour, Passengers does just that. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence do their thing, their characters falling deeper and deeper in love. You quickly find yourself lost in a love story, backdropped by beautiful views of the universe.
But just as I felt myself really starting to enjoy the film, I was jolted out of my reverie by the film becoming sci-fi as fuck (I could describe things with fancier, nicer words, but fuck it). The love story becomes awkwardly sidelined, as Jim and Aurora switch their attention to repairing the increasingly malfunctioning spaceship.
I couldn’t help but feel here that the movie was caught between two worlds. Had it started as a sci-fi thriller, I would have accepted its narrative arc, and the movie could have worked well. The same goes for the romance. What we’ve ended up with is a half baked version of both.
A couple of other things bothered me too. Firstly, the robot bartender looks exactly like the bartender from The Shinning.
I spent a good portion of the film holding back the temptation to scream out my discovery to the much more mature journalists surrounding me.
And secondly, HE WOKE HER UP! Despite my understanding of Jim’s desperation, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what he did was irredeemably selfish and wrong. It isn’t good for a film if the audience finds itself struggling to side with the protagonist. But to an extent, that’s what happened to me.
On the other hand, the callous self-preservation motivating his actions was refreshing.
So many of our cinematic heroes are perfect – many impossibly so. Here we have a character in a position of utmost despair, acting in a realistic human way. We are inherently flawed, and the moral culpability of Jim made me challenge myself to consider what I would do in a comparable situation.
Also, this is more of a side-note, but what are the chances that the woman he fell in love with primarily without knowing a thing about her personality turned out to be so perfect in real life? I acknowledge that this is just the destructive side in me coming out to play, but I quietly kept wishing that when he woke her up she proved to be a flaming racist who believed exclusively in conspiracy theories. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.
But, on the brighter side.
The film certainly has its positives. Visually it is impeccable, with the CGI really helping you to feel immersed in the space environment – especially on the big screen.
It also ends with a really nice message. Without wanting to give anything away, you’re left with the kinda cliche but also kinda not life-lesson: Life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Ultimately, while it has its flaws, Passengers is a watchable, enjoyable movie. It did however get lucky that it was held Gold Class. That shit could make an Adam Sandler movie feel like Shawshank.