Synopsis: The spaceship, Starship Avalon, in its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as the “Homestead Colony” and transporting 5,258 people has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, one hibernation pod opens prematurely and the one person that awakens is stranded on the spaceship, 90 years early. (Adapted from IMDb)
Review: Original screenplays remain an elusive species in modern day Hollywood. Personally, I feel like I am suffering from déjà vu most of time I decide to grace movie theaters with my presence. A wide majority of movies these days are sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, disgustingly crude, or lacking in imagination and/or originality. Whenever a film comes around that is wholly original on anything, I feel like celebrations are in order. After all, it become tiring after a while to only see movies that sacrifice plot and character development for never ending shoot outs and action sequences. For the past couple of years, some form of space travel related movie debuts around Christmas. Avatar in 2009, Oblivion in 2013, Interstellar in 2014, The Martian in 2015, and Passengers continued the trend in 2016.
Unlike most blockbuster films of the past ten years, Passengers focus mostly on dialogue to drive the plot instead of loosely connected action sequences. In the near future, humanity has perfected suspended animation and space travel outside of the Milky Way. For a fee, anyone who wishes can leave Earth and launch off into a new destiny on a distant planet. With a one-way travel time of 120-years, only highly motivated people should apply since everyone you know will be dead if you decide to return to Earth. Anyways, Chris Pratt plays a mechanic named Jim Preston, who is a man adrift. He does not feel like he belongs on Earth and just wants to go somewhere where he can build his life, both figuratively and literally. Preston is one of 5,000 passengers on a hibernation ship bound for Homestead II. About 30 years into the trip, his hibernation pod malfunctions and triggers the wake-up mechanism. With no way to put himself back into hibernation, Preston is faced with the reality of spending the rest of his life alone on a spaceship with only a humanoid robot bartender for company.
After spending a year alone with only an anthropomorphic Google for company, Preston begins to debate whether to wake up a fellow passenger. This leads to the main moral and ethical question underlining the plot. What would you do if you had to live the rest of your life utterly alone with no hope of every being rescued or helped? This is one of those situations that everyone has an opinion or but does not really know how they would act. Arthur, the bartender, is an excellent conversationalist, but he is not a human. As such, he does not possess the full range of human emotion and connection. After all, humankind is a social race and we all crave relationships and connection with other people. Unfortunately, for Jim Preston, the only way he can have a genuine connection with another human is to wake someone up prematurely.
I thought Passengers was an excellent exploration of loneliness, agency, identity, mortality, courage, and depression. Was Preston’s decision to wake Aurora early morally right? Who is to say? As with most movies, the plot relies upon situational ethics and is contrived to make a point, which makes arguments for or against difficult. However, the point is worth exploring, which is the idea of a greater purpose. If Preston had not woken up when he did, then 4,999 other people would have certainly died. Furthermore, if Preston had not woken up Aurora, then he would have died because fixing the spaceship required two people. On one Hand Preston saved Aurora from certain death by waking her up, and on the other, he may have also guaranteed her early demise. I found the plot to be a thought proving exploration of the human condition.
Perhaps the most striking component of Passengers is the cast; only three actors appear on camera for the majority of the film. Jennifer Lawrence, Aurora, appears about 1/3rd of the way into the narrative. Chris Pratt carries most of the movie. Few actors have the chance to prove their acting range by literally carrying a film by themselves. Pratt rose the occasion and, I thought, provided an excellent portrayal of a conflicted man looking for answers. His interactions with Arthur, the android barkeep, were excellent. Michael Sheen does an uncanny impersonation of a much more articulate form of Siri. Lawrence excels at playing independent and highly opinionated characters; her performance as Aurora is no exception. Fun fact, her character was named Aurora because she was a `sleeping beauty`. Overall, the three main cast members played off each other quite well and created a reasonably believable dynamic.
If you enjoy films with non-political exploration of the human condition couched in extraordinary circumstances, then Passengers is worth watching. It is a dialogue driven film, so it will require you to think while watching the narrative unfold. Overall, Passengers is a worthy addition to the science fiction space exploration film genre.