Spoilers abound, so if you’re looking for a simple thumbs up or thumbs down:
Passengers has been out a day. Reactions to the “moral dilemma” at the center of the film have been out for a week, including Courtney’s lengthy think piece on how Passengers is steeped in rape culture. She’s right, and let’s acknowledge up front that the premise of the film is stupidly icky: Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awoken from his hibernation 30 years into a 120-year space flight to another habitable planet. After suffering through a miserable year on his own and nearly taking his own life, Jim makes for him the agonizing decision to wake up a fellow passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), with whom he had developed a stalker-like obsession before he’d even opened her hibernation pod.
Here’s the part where the film wants us to ask ourselves, “What would you do?” You’ve got the rest of your life in solitude ahead of you. Do you ruin another person’s life by waking her up, thereby making your life more tolerable but costing her any chance at her own life, or do you fling yourself out into space? Director Morten Tyldum thinks we’d all make the same choice that Jim Preston does. Courtney (and Kristy) acknowledge that he’s probably right because of rape culture.
Me? I agree with the idea that waking her up is essentially tantamount to murder. It is a morally bankrupt decision. But I disagree with Morten Tyldum that it’s the decision most of us would make, because here’s the thing: Having already spent a year alone on this ship, Jim understands the pointlessness of existence. By waking up Aurora, he’s not saving his own life, he’s dooming another. Now there are two doomed lives, and no matter how much you love someone, it’s not going to make spending 80 years on a goddamn space ship with no outside contact with the world, no ambitions, no responsibilities, no jobs, nothing with which to strive, any more palatable. Imagine spending a week alone in a house stranded out in the middle of nowhere with the person you love the most eating freeze-dried food with nothing else to do? How bored would you get? Now, imagine doing that for the rest of your life?
It would be the goddamn Shining, and that’s the thing with Passengers. That would have been an interesting movie, and for about 15 minutes — after Aurora found out Jim woke her up — it looked like the movie could go in that direction. She refuses to talk to him, to even look at him. She hates him. She wants to kill him. She kicks his ass, and nearly does murder him. Meanwhile, he’s still trying to convince her that they belong together.
As a horror movie, this is an interesting concept, even moreso if you can get behind the idea of “Chris Pratt: Horror Movie Villain.” Aurora had unlimited time to plan her revenge, and War of the Roses in space would have been more interesting and it would not have erased the bad thing that Jim Preston did. It would have acknowledged it. It would have treated it appropriately: Like a murder.
That could have been a fascinating movie: Boy wakes up. Boy is miserable. Boy wakes girl up. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl finds out boy ruined her life. Girl rigs a space Roomba to slice boy’s legs off at the knees.
Instead, Passengers entire third act is devoted to papering over the bad act, to erasing it. To finding a way to justify it so that these two attractive people can be in love. That’s bullshit. It’s well-directed, beautifully shot, decently acted, sometimes intense bullshit, but it’s still bullshit.
And it’s a shame, too, because there are some cool things going on in this movie, effects-wise, and even in the dilemma underpinning the bad act. The effects, however, would have been much better used as weapons against Pratt’s character instead of as a device to reunite the two. And if Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts really wanted to explore the ethical dilemma, the better, more probing movie would have seen Aurora Lane take out her revenge on Jim Preston, spend five years in isolation, and then put the same question to her? Would she wake up someone else — man or woman — just to stave off her desperate loneliness? Would she have repeated the cycle, even after killing someone who inflicted it upon her?