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Why Thinly Veiled Love Cannot Save The Infinite Space of Crushing Loneliness: Passengers (2016)

A good premise lost to scripted romance that borderlines on murder and violates her rights

 

The hottest looking people aboard a ship together, alone? What could go wrong?

Right before the credits roll, we hear Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) narrating perhaps her last written log to the remaining 258 crew members and 5000 ish passengers still aboard the Avalon. It’s a soppy quote , spoken with the calm and cadence of a woman in love. It feels tagged on and flimsy considering the overarching plot, something along the lines of , ‘living your life to the fullest based on the circumstances you have’. Her circumstance? She lived out till the end of her days with Jim Paterson (Chris Pratt) the man she supposedly loves and, who in her own words, “murdered her”. How did we take that leap? Let’s roll back.

The Avalon coming into contact with some meteors, jump starting Jim awake
Source: Passengers 2016

Passengers is a 2016 Romantic Science Fiction movie directed by Morten Tyldum, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as the titular romantic due that is bound for travel to Homestead II – Having to save their ship along the way from a bunch of mishaps and failures that would have led to the demise of everyone on board. The premise starts out strong, with Jim having accidentally been woken up from hibernation in transit to their new homeworld, which mind you, takes 120 years to travel to, way longer than the span of an average human life. So when you’re woken up too early from suspended animation, with no less than 90 years to go, panic ensues – you know you’re going to die on this ship.

Aurora swimming in the Avalon’s first class pool.
Source: Passengers 2016

In the first hour of the movie, we are treated to perhaps some of Pratt’s best acting work, showing a range of emotions and fear both soul crushing and vicarious in his attempt to depict the loneliness of being one man on a ship at the edge of the universe. Jim experiences the emotional stages and grief that goes alongside coming to terms with your fate. In the year of seclusion, he has done everything he can, from trying to fix his own hibernation pod, breaking into the ship’s bridge, sending a message home to Earth, trying to wake the crew – its a mess. You’d think with all this technology there would be a system set in place just to prevent this from happening, or at least a security protocol in case it does. The setting of the entire ship looks like the inside a futuristic Titanic, decked out with the latest Apple-esq gear that is both minimalist and believable. It is quite reminiscent of the ship in Wall-E – colonizers heading out to a new world, sailing together in essentially, a contained paradise. First class cabins and suites are everywhere that serve as a gentle caution that despite the futuristic tech, some social systems put in place on earth will never truly vanish.

Spoiler warning for the following

So here is Jim, after repeated failed attempts at re-entering suspended animation, he decides to live a little. Basically on a ship with all the food/ entertainment and amenities he could ever want or need. Cut after cut – between video games, his own private suite, basketball courts, French and Japanese cuisines, it is a slow descent into madness as his beard grows out, grumpy, scowling at the slightest thing in his path. Jim has been removed from most sense of self and decency – the Robinson Crusoe hanging on to the last shred of humanity left.

Jim taking a space walk out alone, and expression of one at the end of his rope.
Source: Passengers 2016

In a personal favourite scene of mine, Jim takes a space walk – fear no longer governed his actions. Disheveled, he floats aimlessly in the expanse of the universe, so beautiful and incomprehensible at the same time. Does it rival similar scenes and narratives from say, The Martian Man, Gravity or Interstellar? Well, maybe yes and no. Here in all this universal beauty, instead of awe, it is a moment of loneliness. The silent tears of what may as well be the last human being in the sky. Immediately after, he contemplates suicide. Standing right at the gateway to space that he could easily kill himself with the push of an airlock button. False urgency, we know he was never going to do it – but by damn, if Pratt’s acting did not convince me of so.

Jim speaking to Aurora while she still slept in suspended animation.
Source: Passengers 2016

Sleeping beauty, Aurora

He comes across Aurora Lane sleeping in her pod. After doing some digging, we are lead to believe he has fallen for this woman. Her mind, her writing, videos of her – this comes across off as both creepy but believable. Jim was not a hero of this movie and never supposed to be the typical hero, he is the embodiment of a desperate man. So after a long time contemplating, he decides to play both God and murderer in one fell swoop – waking Aurora and condemning her to spend the rest of her life on this ship, with him.

Jim takes away Aurora’s choice, her autonomy and her rights, in essence violating her life and held accountable for destroying everything she holds dear. It breaks down the very foundations of being a woman, what? – Jim decides he can wake her up because she’s a bombshell with a mind that he’s never even met yet? It’s nauseating. Even after the romance takes place, I am left constantly questioning the validity of their love. No amount of self sacrifice or doctored romance could convince me of that very fact. Which was a shame because Lawrence and Pratt look great together on screen – New Yorker boho Chiq meets jock buff that is aloof with a good heart, it begs for a conventional romantic take.

Watching a real Red Giant go by, not bad for a date amoung the stars.
Source: Passengers 2016

So after the 1st hour establishing the premise and the extent of Jim’s loneliness, desperation and eventual resolve to wake Aurora and form a relationship with her, the movie could only go to one place, the ‘liar reveal’ route, which tears their dynamic apart and who could blame Aurora? I enjoyed watching her beat up Jim, which sounds horrible I know, but speaks volume and more on how much she could hate this man. It’s cathartic and complex at the same time.

How it should have ended

I would have rather seen Aurora ending up alone with Jim dying. In a twist of fate, it’s her turn to contemplate sinking alone, suicide, or dragging another person down with her. From her character and persona, she seems one to love her writing and friends, would romantic love even have been a priority? Suicide may be something she could choose instead – not before writing a full novella on her experiences being the last woman awake millions of light-years away. Survival forces characterization and while we will never know what could have been, we can speculate.

It ends in a disappointing love conquers all trope, as Aurora realizes that –  “oh, she does love him and that his wrongdoings are never fully paid for.” Maybe she liked the idea of being able to f*** and sleep endlessly on a ship while being denied all other meaningful experiences in life any longer, I digress. The lesson of love is not a happy one, and the longer I contemplate the narration by Aurora at the end, the more I cannot stand it.

There were only one or two scenes that stood out to me and the core of the movie lay with its incredible premise more so than the execution and follow through. Jim’s desperation and loneliness speaks volume for his characterization, but where it lost me, was in a forced romance that romanticizes violating another human being’s right because he “fell in love with her” first. A weak message tagged on in the end – “we can decide what to do with the remainder of our lives, or we can wallow in sorrow of our circumstance”. If that circumstance is the doing of a man you barely knew and forced you into it, it’s time to question how this narrative is framed.

 

 
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Stevie Ku'shon

Stevie grew up in the cusp between the VCR and DVD era and can't afford Netflix either. Reportedly the first ever person to transition from Beta female, to Alpha female, to Beta again successfully without any complications - she also has a degree paper, that paper being white - And 11 out of 10 people agree that she never tells any lies, especially in writing. With a background in fine arts, particularly an affinity for performance/ installation art that touch on breaking boundaries and social norms, she has a lil sum-sumthin to say about it all

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