Film Review: Passengers

by Keith Hill

Rated M. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen. Directed by Morten Tyldum.

Passengers has all the elements of a compelling film – sci-fi drama, a lost in space love story, a heartbreaking ethical dilemma, and two of the biggest movie stars on the planet right now. Ultimately, however, director Morten Tyldum doesn’t manage to pull them all together to fulfil its promise.

Set in a future where planet Earth has become overpopulated and over-priced, the Homestead company offers a fresh start on its custom made colonies for those with a sense of adventure and who are willing to pay. The 5000 passengers of the Starship Avalon are put into suspended animation for all but the final four months of their 120 year long journey, after which they will experience a final, luxurious transition to the new colony where they can start a new life.

Theoretically designed to withstand any impact with space debris, the Avalon collides with a meteorite that causes enough damage to the ship to bring one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt), out of suspended animation 90 years too early. With no way of putting himself back to sleep, Jim faces a slow and lonely death on the ship, accompanied only by android bartender, Albert (Sheen), who helps him drown his sorrows.

Driven almost to the point of suicide, Jim stumbles upon his own sleeping beauty, another passenger named Aurora Lane (Lawrence). After months of cyber-stalking, and moral arm-wrestling, Jim hacks her pod and brings her out of suspended animation, essentially sentencing her to the same isolated sentence as him. Oblivious to this fact, Aurora begins to fall for Jim, in a case of intergalactic Stockholm Syndrome.

Though the pair seem content to settle down together for the rest of their journey, essential processes on the ship begin to fail as a result of the meteor strike. Jim and Aurora face the challenge of diagnosing the problem and fixing the ship to save the lives of the rest of the ship’s sleeping inhabitants.

Passengers boasts two massive stars, and both do a more than competent job with their roles. Pratt and Lawrence have undeniable charm, enough that you can almost forgive Jim’s incredibly self-centred and creepy act. The first 20 minutes of the film, devoted solely to Jim’s time alone on the ship helps you feel the weight of Jim’s decision as he wrestles in his own mind with the thought of waking Aurora up.

The weakness of the film is that the plot really only has one place to go, and it gets there without really amping up the tension as much as it could. There’s nothing that comes as a twist or surprise at any stage, and compared to other recent films set in space, such as Gravity, The Martian and Interstellar, Passengers seems to lack the suffocating feeling of being stranded alone in space.

Intensifying that sense of aloneness would have really helped to feel the magnitude of Jim’s moral decision and the terror of being alone for the rest of your life, because the way that God has made us was to be in relationship. At the very beginning of creation, God declared that it was not good for man to be alone. Man is created in the image of the triune God, who has existed eternally in perfect relationship within himself, and so relationship and community are essential elements of what it means to be human. And while we rarely face the terror of being physically alone, the sin that lives in us and corrupts us damages our relationships, cutting us off from one another and God, subjecting us to a spiritual isolation potentially more permanent than Jim’s. Only God himself is able to restore the fellowship that we were created for, that which our sin has destroyed.

The Verdict: Despite the predictable plot, and the presence of some questionable moral deliberation from Jim, the charm and skill of both Pratt and Lawrence mean that Passengers ticks the right boxes for some good holiday viewing. 3/5

Passengers releases in Australia on January 1, 2017. It is already screening in the USA.

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