PASSENGERS. Starring : Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Rated M (Mature themes). 116 min.
This American science fiction film is about two people on board a spaceship headed for a new planet, who wake up early from their induced hibernation. They face living the rest of their lives together on board a spaceship has has not yet reached its destination. For them, they never will.
A starship "Avalon" takes off from Earth with 5000 "passengers" on board. It is travelling on a130 yr. journey to "Homestead II", a new planet that holds promise of colonisation in a world that is not "overpopulated, overpriced, and dated", as Earth is. The ship is stacked with every conceivable luxury-comforts that passengers can use as the ship nears its destination. All the passengers - separated according to class, or ability to pay for their passage - are kept in induced hibernation in individual pods for the journey. A computer error, however, caused by a meteor shower, wakes up Jim Preston, a "passenger" on board, 90 years too early.
While awake, Jim notices an attractive young girl in one of the other pods, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He scrutinises her passenger profile, and decides to wake her as his "perfect woman". Fearful about his long life ahead, and incredibly lonely, he arouses Aurora from her cyrosleep and tells her that a computer malfunction was responsible for her waking up. Aurora initially feels as fearful as Jim, and with time she and Jim grow close together.
Arthur (Michael Sheen), a smiling android robot-bartender, who is a computer member of the crew, has listened attentively to all of Jim's woes while he was alone, and communicates inadvertently to Aurora that she was awakened by Jim deliberately. Aurora is distraught, and feels "murdered".
A second victim of genuine pod failure (Laurence Fishburne) wakes up and tries to fix a major mechanical problem, with Jim's and Aurora's help, but dies trying to do so. Jim tries to repair the ship and almost dies too. Rescued by Aurora, Jim gives her the option of going back into hibernation, or staying awake on board. Aurora realises that if she agrees to go back into hibernation, she will never see Jim again and declines. Some eighty years later the other "passengers" on Aurora wake up as the spaceship finally reaches Homestead I I.
This film raises a host of moral issues. Jim steals from Aurora the life she had planned, and he condemns her willingly to his own fate. Sex between them in that situation - which occurs - is arguably rape. The film morphs into a Hollywood standard romance as Aurora decides she cant't live without Jim despite what he has done.
This is a movie that sets the stage for exploration of some interesting issues and pulls back, substituting instead an impressive array of special effects. What do humans do at critical moral choice points, and why do they behave that way? How can a loving relationship endure when it is founded on basic mistrust? The plot-line of the film is clever, but the film descends far too easily into male wish-fulfilment fantasy. This is a movie about the power of love, that is deeply sexist.
Technically speaking, the movie has some awe-inspiring special effects - one in particular shows what happens to water in a swimming pool, when gravity is suspended. But neither the quality of the acting or direction is up to facing the moral and relationship issues at stake. The film raises them, but lets them slide disappointingly by.
This is diverting cinema that presents science fiction at a moral price, in a male way. The film is essentially an escapist movie, that avoids difficult and challenging questions by focusing on a futuristic version of Hollywood-style romance.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released January 1st., 2017