FILM REVIEW – PASSENGERS. With Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne. Written by Jon Spaihts. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril. 116 minutes.
PASSENGERS is a space drama that raises some interesting questions, but leaves it to the viewer to decide if the main character has redeemed himself. Some are attacking the film as sexist and misogynistic, which is a serious misreading of it. Who knew space opera could be controversial?
The Starship Avalon is a corporate ship on a 120-year journey to colonize the planet Homestead. The 5,000 colonists and additional crew members are all in a state of suspended animation. After the ship is damaged in a meteor storm, one of the pods awakens its occupant 90 years early. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is a mechanical engineer and quickly figures out something is wrong. He’s the only one awake and there’s no way for him to return to deep sleep. His only company is Arthur (Michael Sheen), a robot bartender.
After a while he starts to lose it, and when he encounters the sleeping form of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) he first becomes intrigued, and then starts to fall in love. After more than a year of what amounts to solitary confinement, he gives in to his desires and wakes her up. Of course, he doesn’t tell her that he’s done this, and, over time, they become lovers. You can guess where this is going. Sooner or later she’s going to find out that he has, in effect, condemned her to death long before they reach the planet.
He is wrong, he knows it, and she’s not interested in his explanations or apologies. The accidental awakening of a crew member (Laurence Fishburne), puts their situation into a somewhat more dire context. Jim and Aurora each face the prospect of going on alone, which leaves us wondering whether she can ever forgive him for what he’s done, or whether he is irredeemable.
Pratt and Lawrence play their characters with feeling, not always doing the expected. At one point she seems ready to kill him or, at least, do him serious injury, and he’s feeling so guilty he’s ready to let her do it. That’s why those seeing this as symbolic of an abusive relationship are imposing something onto a story about something else: two people making difficult choices and not always getting it right.
We don’t see many people beyond these two, although Sheen adds an ironic touch as Arthur (seemingly modelled on the bartender in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of “The Shining”) and Fishburne’s character seems more a plot device, although he has some poignant moments. (Andy Garcia appears so briefly in the film’s coda as the ship’s captain that one has to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor.)
The effects are evocative and play off the script’s notion that some of the colonists rank higher than others. When Jim tries to order a fancy coffee from a device in the cafeteria, he’s told that’s only available to “gold” level members. There’s also a beautiful and frightening scene when Aurora is caught in the ship’s swimming pool when the gravity fails. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
“Passengers” lacks the derring-do of “Rogue One” or the deep-dish philosophizing of “Arrival,” but it is a solid and worthy science fiction effort that treats its characters–and its audience–as adults.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.