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Passengers and Problems

Posted on Friday, December 13th, 2019

Dave!It's Friday! Which would be great except I'm working all weekend.

This post is a spoiler-laden discussion of the movie Passengers from 2016 which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. If you haven't seen the film, then go watch it (or not, it's up to you) before proceeding (or not, it's up to you)...

Passengers Movie Poster with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt's faces above a space ship floating through space.

I put off seeing Passengers despite being a big fan of Chris Pratt and a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence because I read a couple reviews on Rotten Tomatoes which said it was problematic, so I passed. The review that sticks in my mind most was called Passing Jerks, which I just Googled... it was by Ryan Syrek at The Reader. His review was particularly harsh, because he essentially boiled it down to a "love your abuser" flick. Something I had no interest in watching.

Fast forward, and...

A while back I saw that Passengers was on, and decided to see just how awful it was.

Except I actually liked it.

Jim Preston is on a space ship that's on a 120-year journey to a colony on another planet. Thanks to damage to his sleep pod by an asteroid strike, he wakes up 90 years early and, because reasons, it's impossible for anybody to go back into hibernation for the rest of the journey.

It's at this point I am going to agree with Ryan Syrek on one thing... Pratt's character of Jim Preston is pretty awful when he decides to wake up a woman named Aurora from sleep because he fell in love with her writing (and looks, I'm sure). Since she can't go back into sleep, he does this knowing that he's dooming her to die on the journey... then lies to her and tells her that her sleep pod must have been damaged too.

But to all of Syrek's other points? Not so much.

  • "You get to watch a boring dick grow a beard for the first half of the movie." Well, duh. That's the entire catalyst of the movie. We are meant to feel just how boring and lonely your life would be if you were alone for a year. It's context as to why he does something so reprehensible.
  • "The number of times Aurora is preposterously placed into situations where her clothes must come off would be appalling..." Did I watch the wrong movie? There was exactly once that her clothes "must" come off. Jim takes her for a space-walk and she can't fit in the space suit in the dress she's wearing. But Jim turns around and all that he (and the audience) sees is her dress sliding across the floor. Yeah, she is wearing a swimsuit those times she's like, SWIMMING, but it's a perforated futuristic one-piece with more coverage than a bikini! Where is all this "male-gaze" bullshit Syrek is talking about? Arguably J-Law looks her most alluring when she's fully-covered in a red dress. Did I go to the bathroom when all this bodice-ripping happens? As Syrek noted, the only nudity was Chris Pratt's ass... and it was meant to be humorous... and show that he had completely given up. If anything, this was a movie for the female gaze.
  • "Michael Sheen is forced to watch all this shit as a legless robot chained to a bar." Well, yes. If he were a robot capable of independent motion who could do stuff with Jim, perhaps the guy wouldn't have been so lonely? Sheen played a crucial role as a sounding board for the first half of the movie... and a moral compass at the start of the second half... and the "guy" who eventually spills the beans.
  • "The premise is shut-yo-damn-mouth preposterous, the visuals are “Yeah, I’ve seen 2001 and every other sci-fi movie since too” uninspired." The premise is preposterous? In what way? A meteor strike can't happen in space? Equipment can't malfunction? A person can't make a morally horrific choice? What? When you watch a science-fiction film which takes place in the future, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief has to enter the picture. Otherwise, why the fuck are you watching the movie?
  • "He confines her to die on a spaceship with him because he thinks she’s cute." Except not really. The movie goes out of its way to show that he read all her writing (she's a writer) and fell in love with her smarts, humor, and talent... as well as her looks. When a reviewer sets up a straw-man argument like this, how can you take them seriously? You can't. If you felt that the attempt to build reasons for waking her up were weak, then say that. Don't outright lie.
  • "The naked message in the film then is “ladies, even if a man does the literal worst thing possible to you, forgive him." Except she doesn't forgive him. Up until there's a disaster which forces them to cooperate, she makes this very clear.
  • "Forgive him or die alone like the sad spinster adrift in this life you fear becoming." And here where Syrek is just being an asshole. Once the disaster has passed, Jim finds out that the Auto-Doctor pod can serve as a hibernation chamber to keep Aurora asleep until the ship arrives at the colony in 88 years. She doesn't have to be a "sad spinster"... she can put the entire mess of his disgusting act behind her and move on with the life she intended. By omitting this salient fact, Syrek is being all new levels of disingenuous.
  • "This is gonna sound crazy, but the two fall in love, then have a problem, then work together and reconcile." Crazy how? At the time Aurora falls in love with Jim, she doesn't fucking know that he woke her up, she thinks her pod malfunctioned like his did! They are literally "the last two people on earth" at that point and, thanks to all that Jim researched on Aurora, he knew they were likely compatible. So it's perfectly natural that they would fall in love. And yes, they reconcile, but that's her choice. He is willing to let her go back to sleep. She has the option of going back to sleep. But, as anybody who has been in love can attest, turning off those feelings is not always easy... even when the person you're in love with doomed you to death on a spaceship because he was so horribly lonely that he couldn't help himself. On top of that, they had just faced death together, and that's a bond that's not easy to shake either.
  • "Nothing Jim could say or do could forgive this sociopathic action, but it’s only that much more insulting to women that he’s a boring nothing-person who is, for real here, the supreme goddamn worst." Again, did you fucking forget that she had the option of going back into hibernation? Did you go to the bathroom during that scene? Because, yeah, if she forgave him because she felt she had no other choice and it was better than dying alone, then sure, that would make for an awful movie... but she had another choice! What she forgave was NOT that he had awakened her. What she forgave was that he was so lonely that he wronged her terribly. And the film made this abundantly clear when she thought she was going to be forced to live out the rest of her days alone if Jim died (which is why she risked her life to save his). And how was he a boring nothing-person? She mentioned early on in their relationship that hanging out with him was the first time she didn't feel alone... in her entire life! They did fun things together. He was constantly working to improve himself. He had skills. He was always working on something. He risked his life for her... and was later willing to giver her up (seriously, if he was a sociopath, wouldn't he have kept the fact that the Auto-Doctor pod could hibernate her to himself?). He did everything he could to make up for what he had done. He wasn't a sociopath who thought he did nothing wrong... he was haunted by what he had done, and said he wish he could have stopped himself. On top of that, he looks like Chris Pratt.
  • "Passengers is morally reprehensible and functionally inert." Jim's initial act is reprehensible, but the rest of the movie is about redemption. And if you had paid any sort of attention at all, you might have seen that the story actually makes this exceedingly clear. If Ryan Syrek doesn't feel that anybody is worthy of redemption, then perhaps he is functionally inert?
  • "It is anti-entertaining and potent nightmare fuel for anyone who dares think women have agency outside of finding a nice man." Except Jim is not a nice man. He never thinks of himself as a nice man because of what he did. Aurora made it clear that she didn't think he was a nice man. Even the robot fucking bartender didn't think he was a nice man. And, for the last fucking time, anybody who thinks that the message of the movie is that "women don't have agency outside of finding a nice man" wasn't paying fucking attention. Which is kind of a movie reviewer's job, isn't it? But, being a guy myself, I am not going to let my thinking decide any of this. I will, however, let Jennifer Lawrence's thinking decide it. I've watched countless interviews she's done and I am certain that she wouldn't do a movie with such a message. Indeed, at the time this film was made (and probably even today), she could have made any damn movie she wanted. She didn't have to make Passengers at all. But she did. So perhaps we should listen to women when it comes to this stuff?
  • "A nuclear reactor failure factors into the climax of the film. I rooted so hard for that reactor failure. So hard." Jesus. There were FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE PLUS CREW ONBOARD! Wouldn't wishing 5000+ people dead just to kill one man make Ryan Syrek a morally reprehensible sociopathic nightmare? If it doesn't, it does make him (at the very least) completely self-unaware.

Ryan Syrek reads like one of those movie reviewers who considers themself to be a morally superior social justice warrior who is so far above any possible failing that they can completely omit pertinent information about a film which doesn't support their narrative. If he would have at least acknowledged that the film addressed his problems... but still failed to win him over... I could at least respect his critique. As it is, I cannot help but go back to his first paragraph...

"What’s that, Chris? You want to be a super-duper, dimple-chinned movie hunk? Bend over and bore us while your once-charismatic baby blues go fully dead inside."

First of all, Chris Pratt's eyes are green.

Second of all, saying that Chris Pratt "bent over," thus using a homophobic slur to say that he sold out his career to star in this movie, makes the only passing jerk here Ryan Syrek. Talk about somebody who must be dead inside. Because, just like J-Law, Chris Pratt is one of the biggest movie stars on earth and doesn't have to sell out a damn thing.

As for me? Yeah. The movie is highly problematic... at first. But I cannot ignore that there were explanations for why the characters acted the way they did. Jim did a horrendous wrong not just for fun or because Aurora was pretty... it was because he was horrendously lonely and couldn't stop himself after reading her words which felt as though they were speaking just to him. Aurora didn't forgive him because she didn't want to die a lonely spinster, she forgave him because that was the choice which was least painful to her after she had fallen in love with the guy. She chose to forgive him. She chose to rescue him. She chose to stay with him. Far from being a victim, Aurora could have gone right back to her life the way it was going to be at the end of the movie... but all the choices were hers and she made her choice. Then, as we find out from her book, she didn't regret the choice she made and the life she lived.

Like I said, I enjoyed the film. I thought it had a lot to say about redemption and forgiveness that many critics overlooked in a rush to be politically correct. The special effects were pretty great too.

And I really liked the ending where they show the tree that was planted and the home that Aurora and Jim built together... plus a maintenance robot who has apparently been harvesting vegetables...

So... I don't know if I recommend this movie or not. I can see where people might have serious problems with it, and that's okay. To me it worked, and the film itself addressed many of the criticisms that were dropped on it. But don't listen to me... or the critics... if the film looks interesting to you, judge for yourself.

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  1. Ren says:

    Thank you for this.

    I watched (and enjoyed) Passengers before the backlash and then doubted myself. Now I can comfortably watch it in the future. Or, I can do so at least once to see how I feel.

    • Dave2 says:

      While I understand a bit of backlash over the perceived awfulness of his selfish decision… I do not in ANY WAY understand the mindset that arises from watching this film and thinking it had any relationship or similarities to a “love your abuser” scenario. They went to extraordinary lengths to show that this was absolutely not what happened… and I don’t think Jennifer Lawrence would have ever starred in it if it did.

  2. I watched this on a flight to London. Loved it. Never understood the backlash.

  3. Musa Ibraheem says:

    “Let’s just swoon at these two glamorous stars, and shut off our ability to think logically!” YOU are why Hollywood keeps making garbage like this. These amateurs couldn’t even make a fundamental decision in science fictional spaceflight, whether to use centrifugal spin to simulate gravity, or use as-yet undiscovered artificial gravity. If this ship has artificial gravity, why is much of it spinning… FOR 120 YEARS? Who’s gonna lubricate those bearings, since nobody can go back into hibernation? After a critical malfunction, why don’t the automatic systems wake a crew member? Too busy making martinis? Why are the crew members conveniently locked away, even during an emergency? Another contrivance of lazy scriptwriting. Do I have to mention how annoyed people of color are that the character that isn’t white ALWAYS dies first? After more than a century of this always happening? I’m a lifelong lover of science fiction, but I hate bad sci-fi. Unlike bookstores and libraries, the world’s movie theaters are chock full of it. Passengers is another fine example, but not only of bad sci-fi (getting that close to Arcturus is hysterically funny), but a terrible script, full of plot holes you can fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through.

    • Dave2 says:

      I fully acknowledged that the film is highly problematic from several standpoints. And I was sure to say that I can understand why people would not like the film, as all of your criticisms on the science are 100% valid (I literally said that equipment can malfunction… though who knows what advancements might have come along… maybe they invent lube-free bearings or whatever?). — The reason I liked it, and I thought I made this clear, is this: “I thought it had a lot to say about redemption and forgiveness that many critics overlooked in a rush to be politically correct.” All of the things I address about the original review in the bullet points above are to do with the criticism of the characters. That was what was interesting to me. And I was willing to ignore the flaws, plot holes, and bad science because it was enough to entertain me. — But you didn’t like it. That’s fine. You want to blame me for what Hollywood makes. That’s fine too. Whatever makes you happy. I was just giving my opinion on a frickin’ film and talking about the characters. I wasn’t “defending the science” or “swooning over two glamorous stars” or whatever else it is you think I was doing. At least not that I know of.

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