Wish you were here
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Jon Spaihts
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence
Swift shot: I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this Morten Tyldum directed science fiction fantasy. Part Cast Away, part Gravity and a clever twist on Sleeping Beauty, Passengers moves along with a dreamy sing-song pace, floating around in space, where time is the ultimate enemy. On the surface that’s what you see, but what’s actually happening is remarkably thought-provoking, if you expand your mind while taking everything in.
Jim Preston (Pratt) is a mechanic on the spaceship Avalon, on a 120 year one-way trip to colonize the planet Homestead II. But, something goes bump in the night, and he wakes up from hibernation 90 years too soon! Now, he is drifting, alone, trapped in a virtual paradise. That’s the first question posited in Passengers, can you truly be happy in paradise if you are eternally alone? When you think of Avalon as a metaphor for other understandings of “paradise,” the conclusions can be quite chilling in the existential context.
They say, “Hell is other people,” but solitary confinement is also considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Oh sure, Jim’s got a robot bar-tender buddy, appropriately named Arthur (Michael Sheen) who attends to his needs at the bar. Jim won’t starve as he’s racking up a huge food and bar tab. Considering he won’t live long enough to worry about paying it back, he’s more than happy to keep charging things to his room. He looks at his early rising as a death sentence, as he tries to figure out a way to go back into hibernation for 90 years. He’s smart, but he doesn’t have access to the crew, so he finally gives up on the idea that he’s ever getting back to sleep.
Once Jim realizes the futility of his efforts, he begins to accept his fate. During his weakest moment though, he encounters Aurora Lane (Lawrence) . . . a “sleeping beauty” that he dare not wake. I am sure her name was a direct homage to the classic tale of a princess waiting for her prince charming to release her from her dreamlike slumber. The comparisons don’t end there, if you seek them out, you’ll find them.
Jim falls in love with the figure behind the glass, as he’s trapped in solitude, he discovers she’s an author. He devours everything written by her. And there is a rich catalog of facts all about her that he is able to find online. He becomes obsessed with her, and he fights the urge to wake this woman he’s already convinced has saved his life. But, to wake her up would be to doom her to his own fate. Still, he wouldn’t be alone anymore. What would you do? Float, alone in space for 90 miserable years, or give in to your temptations and wake Aurora?
I suppose I shouldn’t give anything away in my review, but I will say that several times throughout the film I found myself annoyed with Jim and his decisions. Rather than focus all his attention on waking a beautiful companion, he probably should have looked at the ship’s directory and found a doctor or two to wake up to help him get back to sleep. But, in the years of floating around, that never occurred to him, apparently.
Here is where Passengers really irked me, they were so reliant on artificial intelligence to keep everything hunky-dory for 120 years that they didn’t have any humans on fire watch. If you take away nothing else from Passengers, grasp that fact. Two human beings on a rotating fire watch would have made this whole story moot. Hopefully scientists paid attention to that lesson, as we should never ever become solely reliable on artificial intelligence. It is exactly that, artificial, it lacks the imagination required to factor in the “nobody thought of that” factor. Ultimately the hubris of the Homestead company is to blame for the whole film. They dropped the ball – big time!
If you are familiar with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” it perfectly sums up the plight of Jim and Aurora:
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
And how we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
Time is the enemy of all souls, and misery loves company.
Passengers is aesthetically incredible, with expansive cinematography that defies comparisons. The Avalon is a marvel to behold, and science-fiction film fans will delight in the execution of the special effects. Overall, Passengers is a decent film that provokes the mind, but the script gets washed away by the art. The final act does deliver some much-craved action, but many might not appreciate the voyage to get there.