Imagine Waking up a Century in the Future. Or Not...
If you're looking for an interesting take on those willing to literally give up everything for a "fresh start", the Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt movie Passengers should be at the top of your list. The movie takes place entirely on the starship Avalon, the story revolving around one passenger who is accidentally awoken too soon from his hibernation pod. Engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) finds himself surrounded by people – 5000 of them, but he is all alone. The other passengers are asleep, and will be for almost a century more, until they reach their destination: a colony on a planet called Homestead II. His only companion is a robot bartender, played by Michael Sheen.
The theatrical release was given poor reviews. Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com only awarded it 1.5 stars, and the Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes gives it a mere 31% approval rating. But this is a mystery to me, as the concept was quite original, the story very well written and the visual effects as spectacular as any other science fiction movie today.
Read no further if you are concerned about spoilers. After wandering the ship for a year, Preston
finds himself growing fascinated by one of the other passengers – a writer named Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Ultimately he decides to
awake her, so as to not spend the rest of his life alone. Selfish? Sure. Realistic? I thought
so. The concept of Aurora eventually falling in love with Jim, even after she finds out what he did, outraged many reviewers. In fact, the
characters' actions, which seemed entirely plausible in the context of the movie, seemed to taint reviews of Passengers in general during its theatrical release. To me all this says is
that the film was effectively scripted and produced, to warrant such emotion. It deserved better ratings from critics, and better box office.
There were certain plot oversights I did have problems with, which I thought could have been addressed very simply. For instance, Jim can’t go back to sleep because his pod is broken and there are no spare pods. I find it unbelievable that on such a long journey the planners of the trip would not have anticipated the need for extra pods (apparently “they never malfunctioned before”). Since the Avalon was damaged at the beginning of its journey, my feeling is the storage chamber where the extra pods were housed could have easily been destroyed at that time too (script problem solved). The other oversight was that the ship’s medical bay only had one diagnostic and repair pod. One pod only seemed to serve solely a plot point at the end of the movie, which I won’t give away here. However, in the context of the story, one pod doesn't make sense at all, because if the 5000 passengers are awoken 4 months before their destination (as we are told will happen), I can't imagine the medical crew not needing more.
It would have been interesting to explore the motivations further behind the characters’ reasons for leaving Earth. Aurora, who was only planning to stay on Homestead II for a year, then return to Earth, would have been looking at two centuries of sleep time. Her family, her friends, everything she knows will have long turned to dust by the time she returns home. Even her skillset would be outdated upon her return. The question really is - how can you give literally everything up? Yet it’s a decision each of the 5000 passengers and crew on board the Avalon have apparently made. Exploring these consequences, even in dialogue, would have been worth hearing about.
This movie works for me, and I'm halfway through watching it for a second time. I too wish I could travel to Homestead II, but if I woke up part way through the journey and could not go back to sleep, I suspect I would have behaved exactly as Jim did and eventually awaken another passenger. It may not be right, I may do it knowing I would regret it later, but haven't we all done that at some point in our lives anyway? Done something we knew was wrong but just couldn't help ourselves? Something we could not simply ignore or get past - until we had done it? Passengers takes that idea to a whole new level, and I applaud the filmmakers for it.