Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Film Review: Passengers

Sexuality/Nudity Mature 
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Passengers is a good movie that could be great with a little more attention paid to the third act.

The story revolves around a very high-concept sci-fi premise:  Earth is colonizing planets outside of the solar system.  In order to get there, people go into hypersleep for the nearly more-than-century-long trip.  Due to an accident, Jim Preston's sleep pod malfunctions and he wakes up more than 80 years too soon and cannot go back to hibernation.  As a result he is alone on the ship, the Avalon, with only the robotic bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company.  Even as he breaks into most of the amenities that the Avalon has to offer, the isolation starts driving Jim insane.  Things change when Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up.  Together they explore this isolated life together as things begin to go even more horribly wrong.

The movie's concept is excellent and it explores the ideas of human loneliness even with every technological comfort.  I couldn't help but make the connection to the modern world where we get better at interacting with technology but have an increasing sense of isolation.

The design of the film is also beautiful. Director Mortum Tyldum does a wonderful job of making the Avalon a spectacle to behold.  And the outerspace scenes are made with the appropriate balance of terror and wonder.

The production design also wisely makes this future not too distant from our own.  Everything things familiar enough so we are not lost yet fantastic enough to stimulate the imaginations.  And the use of special effects is not too showy but is very creative.  Watching gravity fail inside of a swimming pool was stunning to watch.

The performances are also fantastic.  Pratt has to carry most of this film and it is probably his best performance to date.  Tyldum probably could have pushed him a little more, but the actor pulls off the lonely madness while still being sympathetic.  Lawrence also does a great job.  She is able to play all kinds of conflicting emotions all believably.

A lot of ink has been spilled over what I call the movie's "original sin."  To adequately review this film, it is not possible to do so without getting into spoiler territory  So be warned:


The main controversy of the film regards Jim and Aurora.  After a year of loneliness, Jim is suicidal.  But then when he sees Aurora's sleeping pod he reads up about her and in his mind he falls in love with her.  He then is tempted with the idea of waking her up.  If he does he will be able to spend his days with the one he has been pining for.  But in doing so, he would condemn her to death aboard the ship before reaching their destination.  Jim struggles for a long time about what to do, knowing it is wrong but being overwhelmed by temptation.  But in the end, he wakes her.

While this is a deplorable act for our main character, the movie does an excellent job of showing that it is deplorable.  Jim knows what he has done, but once he chooses, it is irrevocable.  Tyldum films Pratt (who does a remarkable job with the layers here) in such a way that the weight of his choice is always present.

But this does lead to a particularly problematic story dynamic:  the film wants us to be invested in this relationship.  But the circumstances of its genesis are so creepy that it becomes difficult.  This is not an impossible task and movies like Ben Affleck's The Town do this incredibly effectively.  And for the most part, Passengers does get you to buy into this romance.  Lawrence and Pratt deserve a lot of credit for this because of their chemistry.

And part of the tension is in whether or not the sin will be revealed.

And here is also where the third act falls short.

Because of the emotional complexity of the first two acts, the thirds act required a lot of nuance and delicacy to untangle these moral knots.  Instead, the third act is a series of contrivances that force our characters into extreme circumstances that only happen because the writer needed them to happen to get the ending that is desired.  This is a real shame because most of the story is about how each choice has a consequence.  But there is so much sheer coincidence in that third act that it can feel like a betrayal of the early sophistication.

The movie deals with a lot of deep moral questions regarding conscience, loneliness, sin, atonement, and forgiveness.  With the exception of unrepentant fornication, I would say that this is an excellent movie that you can use to explore moral issues in the human condition.

Your satisfaction with the movie will probably rely on whether or not you believe that Jim has sufficiently atoned for his sin or not.  That is the key to making the movie work.  If you don't believe that Jim has "earned" his redemption and Aurora's love then you will think that the film is too pat and contrived.  On the other hand, if you think that even though he did something awful, mercy and forgiveness makes sense, then the movie will be satisfying.

Passengers promises a much more sophisticated payoff than it gives.  Because of that, it's not great.  But even so it is still pretty good.

4 out of 5 stars


  1. My biggest problem with the movie: Can't the Homestead corp. build a ship like the Avalon that can go around an asteroid belt of that size rather than rely on it's shield to power through? Doesn't seem like it would be that much of a course change. I mean if today's cars have lane departure and pedestrian warning systems... but then you have to get the ship into serious trouble to have the story.

    1. I think they wanted to show the idea that the Homstead Corp was like the White Star Line and arrogant about the "unsinkability" of their ship.