Released: December 2016
Unfairly dismissed by many reviewers as an unpleasantly creepy film, Passengers is an excellent look at what it is to be human and the value of society. All whilst in space, which is fun.
Heading out to start a new life on a distant colony planet, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awakened from his stasis 90 years too early. Unable to go back to sleep, Jim is doomed to die on the spaceship, alone, possibly years from now. There is a chirpy android barman, adroitly played by Michael Sheen, but expert in barkeep aphorisms though he may be, it’s not the same as real conversation. This is the crux of the whole film. You have to be able to empathise here, or the rest of the plot may spin wildly beyond your comprehension of what a person is capable of. He spends a year there, talking to computers, creating things no one will see, living a party lifestyle with no one to share it, dropping his grooming habits one by one as there will never be another soul to see him. It’s about the bleakest concept a human will ever have to comprehend. Even the willing hermit is often aware of a world going on outside. His world is static, frozen, stuck in the stasis that he himself wants to be in. It is against this backdrop that the decision is made that seems to split viewers opinions. I’m not going to spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but all I will say is that to criticise the decisions taken in film without taking into account the extreme nature of the situation is absurd, as is looking at the moment of decision only and not how the aftermath is dealt with.
Approaching his darkest hour, Jim gains a companion. Aurora’s (Jennifer Lawrence) arrival spins the film into a new trajectory, and it starts to barrel along at a good pace.
The two leads are more than up to the task of carrying the film by themselves (with an honourable nod to Michael Sheen of course), and you are behind them as they work to overcome the inevitable problem that rears it’s head.
The beautiful spaceship interiors owe more than a little something to Douglas Adam’s Starship Titanic, and the computers they have to interact with to get anything from food to information are perfectly irritating. It would be like having your life run by cheery self-scan checkout machines, with just as unpredictable results.
This is a satisfying drama, with surprising depth and complexity of character. The dilemmas faced are poignantly depicted, giving plenty of post-film discussion potential. Overall, it seems to be a film that enjoys living in grey areas. There are a few downsides though. It feels at times a bit linear, an almost impossible thing to avoid with so few characters to change the dynamic, but still leaving you with a sense it was all always going to happen like that anyway. It’s not a major complaint, but that sense of a planned narrative, from a to b to c does reduce any tension from the action sequences and can leave you wanting more surprises.