Or, A Commentary on a Good but Problematic Film
This piece includes minor spoilers for Passengers, though only those that have been openly discussed by many large media outlets.
When I first saw the trailer for Passengers, I was genuinely excited. I love a good film about humankind taking to the stars as much as the next person, and any film with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in the leading roles is going to get my attention. I didn’t go into the film expecting something particularly mind blowing or intellectually challenging, I just expected to enjoy the plot and love the concept that the trailer had portrayed.
And sure, it was a good film, with an interesting take on the humans-in-space film genre. I laughed more than once at little moments of wry humour and cleverly constructed scenes. The visuals were stunning and seeing two actors inhabiting most of the vast space of film by themselves was incredibly interesting, and unlike anything I had seen before.
But walking out of the cinema, I found myself conflicted as to whether I was actually entirely okay with the story that Passengers told.
Passengers opens with a glitch in the incubation system that keeps the five thousand passengers of the starship Avalon travelling to Homestead II, a human colony planet some 120 years away from Earth. This glitch causes the hibernation pod of engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to malfunction, and Jim wakes up only to find he is the only person awake on the ship, and has woken up 90 years too early. Jim spends a year alone, struggling with the knowledge that he will die long before the ship ever reaches its destination, and will live the rest of his days alone on the ship.
Up until this point, I was not surprised with this development, as much of this is explained in the trailer for the film. However, it is from this point that I realised that the trailer had left out a crucial plot point – how Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up.
In the trailer for the film, it is made out that Aurora wakes up due to a similar pod malfunction caused by a glitch in the ship’s system as that which woke Jim up. However, this is not the case. In fact, it is Jim who wakes Aurora up, largely due to his own loneliness. This act not only wakes Aurora up early, it also sentences her to an early death aboard the ship, long before it reaches its destination. Effectively, Jim has murdered her.
But this is not the story that the film wants you to remember, sugar coating that act of personal violence by forcing these two characters to fall in love despite this act of murder. Even when Aurora eventually finds out what Jim has done, and is angry about it for a while, the end of the film sees Jim participate in an act of great heroism and sacrifice that sees Aurora proclaim her love for him all over again, as though this demonstration of the White Male Saviour complex somehow redeems his earlier act of murder. Even when a member of the crew is woken up by a failure in his hibernation pod’s system, he tells Aurora that whilst Jim did the wrong thing, she shouldn’t let it rule the way she interacts with Jim for the rest of their lives aboard the ship. It is almost like he was woken up to tell Aurora to get a grip and move on because there are bigger problems than her feminism and self-preservation – and that straight up hurt me to see.
Look, I get it, this is not the first time that a film has allowed the lead male to ‘redeem’ himself via the White Male Saviour complex nor will it likely be the last. But that doesn’t mean that I can forgive this film, and the marketing machine behind it, for its deliberate misrepresentation of the film’s plot in the trailer. Sure, if Aurora’s pod had malfunctioned in the same way Jim’s had, I might not have the same problem with this film – in fact I would probably have loved seeing two people trapped in a terrible situation find themselves with their perfect partner. But to see Jim’s character deliberately sentence Aurora to death for his own selfish purposes, and then be forgiven because she magically falls in love with him, by fact of sheer proximity, doesn’t sit right with me. In fact, it coloured the way I saw the entire film, even in its best moments.
What puzzles me most is that the two lead actors, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, signed up for this film knowing that the plot would play out in this manner. I have been a long time fan of both actors, and both actors have been very vocal about feminism and the representation of women in film. Jennifer Lawrence has been particularly vocal, and has become something of a role model for young women, and so to see her in a role where her character, though presented as a strong woman, is eventually okay with the circumstances of her murder because she happened to fall in love with the perpetrator, was disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in this film, but it was her brilliance in a role that seemed to undermine her public feminism that made me feel uneasy. I’m not about to boycott either Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence because of their involvement in this film. Indeed, I will continue to see their films because they are incredible at their craft (though this doesn’t excuse this film for its blatant endorsement of Stockholm Syndrome). However, it does make me wonder why the marketing team behind the film decided not to show this crucial plot moment which happens so early in the film, in any of the promotional material, or why the writers felt that this would be an excusable element of the plot.
I am interested to hear your thoughts about this film, especially if you have seen it and have felt as uneasy I have about this plot point, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear what you did and didn’t like about this film, and how you felt about seeing these two beloved actors in these roles.
© Hayley New 2017