Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Jennifer Lawrence: Aurora Lane
Chris Pratt: Jim Preston
Michael Sheen: Arthur
Laurence Fishburne: Gus Mancuso
You have a secret. It’s a secret that will deeply hurt the one you most love, for it is a betrayal, your betrayal, a betrayal you chose after long, careful deliberation. Do you keep it, carry the burden the rest of your life, or do you share it?
Some would say one must always disclose such secrets. The loved one has a right to know. Even though it will hurt them, perhaps change your relationship forever, perhaps destroy it, they are owned the chance to forgive.
Some would say one should never compound error with additional error. All sin, all fall short of perfection. Live on and do your best never to sin again. Do your best to make them happy and live up to their goodness, to the qualities that attracted you to them in the first place.
And could there be a chance at redemption, some selfless act that can wipe away such transgression?
That’s the central conflict of Passengers. This is an unusual movie, and while some critics have been unkind, I am not among them. I am a sucker for romance, and this is a classic love story set in space. It’s about the strength and resilience of the human spirit, of our ability to love and forgive, and of our boundless ability to make the best we can of bad situations, and even to prevail.
It’s difficult to say much more about the plot without engaging in too many spoilers. Suffice it to say there are two main characters: Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane, a writer, and Chris Pratt as Jim Preston, an engineer. They, and 4998 others are in hibernation about the Avalon, a huge spaceship owned by a commercial company sometime in the future. They are on their way to a newly colonized world, an opportunity to start afresh and to have a new life. Jim plans to stay for the rest of his life. Aurora plans to stay for a year and return to write about the experience.
The catch is, as Laurence Fishburne’s Gus Mancuso explains late in the movie, the Avalon can only travel at half the speed of light, and the journey takes 90 years, making hibernation a necessity. Gus isn’t around long–it’s a short role–but Fishburne does well with the brief material he has.
Chris Pratt plays a practical man, a man good with systems and tools, which is fortunate because the Avalon is damaged enroute, and he’ll need all his skills to save the day. Pratt does well with the script, but the real star is Jennifer Lawrence, whose Aurora Lane comes alive. Pratt’s character does develop to a degree throughout the film, but Lawrence’s character is truly dynamic, and she gets the satisfying last word. These are characters audiences care about.
Michael Sheen plays an android bartender, and pivotal character. Pratt confides in him, forgetting his artificial intelligence doesn’t have the subtlety of a human brain. He is programmed to respond only to the kinds of human conversation and concerns a bartender encounters.
In many respects, the Avalon is also the star of the movie. A vast ship of graceful curves, it represents many physical problems. In space, shape is irrelevant. A cube–like the Borg–would be entirely practical, yet the Avalon was built, at obviously huge cost, to be futuristic and swoopy-looking. The script is full of physical problems. The ship has an energy shield, but not a foolproof shield. The entire crew and all the passengers are in hibernation for 90 years, yet we are to believe technology is so perfect, no one need worry about anything as they travel through space at half the speed of light. Automated systems will deal with every problem. What could go wrong?
One irreconcilable plot hole is once awakened, it’s impossible to put anyone back into hibernation, despite medical facilities that include an “autodoc” that can actually bring the dead back to life–more or less. The designers of the ship have thought of every eventuality save that. They’ve loaded the ship with spare parts for everything on board, yet are arrogant in their belief that a hibernation pod failure simply can’t occur. It does; more than once.
In one scene, Pratt’s Jim Preston is exposed to an extended blast of what must be plasma from a fusion reactor, yet suffers no ill effects from the radiation, to say nothing of being exposed to the heat of a sun. Yet, the movie does well deal with other issues of space travel, such as a temporary loss of gravity.
The production values are first rate, and the CGI is up to contemporary standards, which is to say, it’s utterly convincing. However, it is not the grand sets and effects that make the movie compelling, it’s human emotion, and ultimately, love.
Passengers is worth seeing in the theater for the grandeur of the setting and the high level of CGI wizardry, however, one won’t be cheated if they wait for the DVD.
In Conan the Barbarian, Conan is asked what is best in life. Passengers suggests an answer, an answer with which I agree. I suspect you will too.