Though I focus on analyzing the merits of the latest blockbuster or indie release, there are the occasional times where I go to a movie to simply (shock) enjoy it. That was the case this time around with Passengers – the latest big Hollywood Romantic Fantasy, starring Jennifer Lawrence and my favorite movie puppy, Chris Pratt. I knew the scandal behind this movie from reading about the script in the trades, and also knew that it had a pretty low score on Rotten Tomatoes. But a movie that made Jennifer Lawrence demand a big paycheck and top billing can’t be all that bad….. right?
Oh, I was so wrong. So, so miserably wrong.
So yes, if you can’t guess – SPOILERS AHEAD FOR PASSENGERS.
Passengers promised to be a “What If” type of romantic tale. Boy and Girl wake up suddenly aboard a spaceship that is on a 120-year-long journey to a new planet. They’re the only ones awake, and they can’t get back to sleep. Though silly in many aspects, all I wanted to get out of this was an excuse to relax during the busy Holiday season and imagine I was cuddling with Chris Pratt alone on a spaceship as the stars passed over our heads.
Instead, Passengers tells us the story of Jim (played by Pratt) whose pod gets opened when an asteroid hits the ship, making him the only one awake with 90 years left in said journey. Jim is now very, very lonely (like Tom Hanks Castaway style, beard and all) and is left with only a countless amount of delicious restaurants and a suite, along with many other luxuries to have all to himself. But after a year alone, he’s feeling pretty down in the dumps. Yet before he decides to end his life, he sees Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and thinks she’s the prettiest girl on the ship – developing an instant attraction.
The problem is, Jim – SHE’S STILL ASLEEP. Like in a pod for 90 years asleep.
But that doesn’t stop our leading man from getting to know more about his space angel, and thus we’re presented with a montage of Jim learning about Aurora through listening to interviews taken of her before she left Earth, reading her books (she’s an author/journalist) and “having lunch” (eating next to her pod) every day. This might sound innocent enough, but this whole thing right here is what leads Passengers down a road to holy hot mess land.
For you see, the true “conflict” about this movie isn’t that Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have to save the ship from some unknown terror – no, no. It is all about whether it is morally right for Chris Pratt (who has been alone for a year) to open up a stranger (specifically a woman’s) sleeping pod without her consent – basically causing her predetermined death if he does do this. And guess what? He does it.
Now the movie doesn’t let Jim get away with it so easily at first, nor does it not let him feel guilt about his actions – that is, in the first 5 minutes after which the act occurs. Post that timestamp, Passengers attempts to become a harmless Rom-Com, with cute moments of Jim and Aurora being precious Tumblr-approved muffins in space. They play basketball, watch movies, and dance all the DDR you could imagine.
Let’s jump to when the film’s “conflict” occurs: Aurora discovers the truth about Jim’s involvement in her pod malfunctioning and becomes an angry, bitter, upset person. And how can you blame her? If someone with the moral compass of the worst OkCupid user ever decided to crack open my pod just so that he could look at my pretty complexion for the next 90 years, I’d be less-than-pleased.
Then comes the aspect of Passengers that made me write this article in the first place: Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora does indeed get angry at Pratt’s Jim for what he did. Heck, there’s even a scene where she tries to kill him (but then the movie taps her on the shoulder and screams “Just cry instead! Jim is too sweet to kill!”), among many other moments. However, regardless of how many times Aurora expresses her dismay over the situation, the movie (and every man in it) essentially tells her to “get over it”.
Yep, that’s right – Passengers is essentially the biggest “Mansplanation” Romantic Movie to ever be created. Phrases like “Wounds heal over time” are told to her by a friendly bartender robot (played by Michael Sheen). A staff member of the ship wakes up (Lawrence Fishburne) and when Aurora explains the awful crime committed, he just responds with something to the effect of “Yeah, I know it happened, but he was alone and crazy. It’s cool.” All of this, plus Jim’s heroic turn during the end of the big explosion-filled finale, all push Aurora to forgive Puppy Pratt’s mistakes and see the error in her own thinking. My response: Where is my barf bag?
Passengers is the kind of movie that stands as a step backward for Hollywood. The progression that has been happening within Tinseltown with movies like Moana or even in small doses like in recent Star Wars flicks can all be diminished with the success of movies like Passengers. This is the kind of movie that gives the impression that idiots can be rewarded for stupid decisions and get the girl. That individuals can indulge in misogynistic 14-year-old fantasies of sleeping with beautiful people and not give a damn about their own wants and desires.
This is the kind of media that – much like the anime Sword Art Online or similar romantic thriller tales with an “Adam and Eve” feel – takes a possibly strong female lead and smashes her confidence into submission, making her eventual only goal to become a supportive romantic figure for the flawed male lead. For SOA, it was Asuna transforming from kick-butt warrior, to pancake-making wifu, to eventual sex slave/object in the course of a season and a half. For Passengers, it is shifting Aurora from her goal of becoming the first journalist to travel between colonies and instead making her become completely devoted to her “stalker”-like partner.
Though I would like to be able to discuss the actual good technical aspects of Passengers, as I sat in my recliner chair, all I could think about was how much this was the type of movie I don’t want my little cousins or future kids to see. How this isn’t inspiring or motivating anyone to move forward with their life or even find someone to love, and instead continues to promote the kind of messages in pop culture that we should avoid showcasing.
Overall, Passengers takes every single bit of what people loved about Disney movies in the feely-feels department (there’s even a scene that is straight from Aladdin) to cushion audiences into its uncomfortable situation. And though Passengers was intended to be a horror film, the true terror is what it turned into: a teenage male fantasy that is never given the slap on the wrist it deserves, and ultimately does more damage than good.
Passengers is currently in theaters.