Passengers: A Thrilling, Visually-Pleasing Sci-Fi with some Problematic Messages about Consent

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In the future, a company offers people the chance to relocate to a far off, undeveloped planet called Homestead. For a hefty fee, passengers go into cryogenic sleep for 120 years, waking up four months prior to arriving at their new home. The ship goes on auto-pilot until then, with all of its crew and passengers sound asleep. However, when the ship flies through an asteroid field, it sustains some damage – including to one of its cryogenic pods.

Jim (Chris Pratt), a mechanic, wakes up. At first, he assumes everything went according to plan and he is months away from arriving at Homestead. But he soon realizes something terrible went wrong – he is the only one awake, and they are still 90 years away from their destination.

After a year spent trying to fix his pod, exhausting the ship’s recreational options, talking to an android bartender – his only companion – and growing more and more lonely and depressed, Jim contemplates suicide. However, when he stumbles upon the still-sleeping Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) – a writer from New York City who is also a passenger on the ship – everything changes.

Jim becomes obsessed with Aurora. He watches her in her pod, researches her on the ship’s database, reads her writings, and watches her application video. Finally, he decides he cannot be alone anymore. He decides to wake Aurora up, making the decision to essentially ruin her chances of getting to Homestead and ever seeing another human being besides him for the rest of her life. He lies to Aurora, saying her pod malfunctioned like his. They become friends, which soon progresses into a relationship. But when Aurora finds out the truth about Jim, her world is turned upside down. If being stuck with only your kidnapper for company isn’t bad enough for Aurora, the ship is malfunctioning – meaning all 5000 sleeping people on board are at risk.

Warning: Spoilers!!! 

I enjoyed this movie. I won’t say I didn’t. I loved the visuals – everything in and outside the ship was beautiful to watch. I enjoyed the creativity and special effects during a scene in which Aurora is swimming in a pool and the gravity goes out, leaving her drowning in a giant ball of water floating in the air.

There were some great details added that really amped up the world building – for example, Jim didn’t purchase the expensive ticket, so he’s unable to access the better quality food and drinks, even though he’s alone. Aurora, with the “gold ticket,” can access a far better meal selection. Passengers wear wristbands that give them access to their rooms and amenities. As the only one awake, Jim uses his mechanic skills to break into the top level suite and lives there instead of his cramped bunk. It was fun watching him – and later, him and Aurora – enjoying the amenities of a ship built for 5000 people, all to themselves. I also enjoyed the little robots, zipping around and cleaning up after Jim – I want one!

Despite a bit of convenience in the narrative (the only other person to wake up naturally just *happens* to be one of the few people aboard who has high security clearance – exactly what Jim had been needing), it was fast paced and engaging.

I felt for Jim and his predicament. This story begs the moral question, what would you do? If you were the only person awake, knowing you were doomed the live out the remainder of your life alone, without any human contact, would you wake someone else up? Would you choose to ruin someone else’s life, without their consent, in order to keep yourself from living and dying alone?

However, this brings me to my biggest critique of the movie. As a speculative fiction writer, I once read an interesting article about sci-fi / fantasy stories. While speculative stories can be framed in the context of a made-up world and premise, they are being watched/read and framed by people in *this* world. Meaning, essentially, that people bring their baggage and biases into the media they consume.

In the context of the movie, I understand why Jim did what he did. And who knows – maybe, in the same situation, I would have made the same choice. But for me, living in a present day society bogged down by rape culture, this narrative felt a bit…icky.

Let me rewrite the narrative a bit.

Let’s say Jim is a lonely, depressed man living by himself in our present day world. He doesn’t speak to anyone else – maybe he has no friends or family, whatever. One day, he sees a beautiful woman outside. He becomes infatuated with her. He learns her name is Aurora. He Googles her online, learns she’s a writer, and reads everything she’s ever written. He learns everything about her.

Jim wants human companionship – needs it. He’s so lonely. So depressed. He wants Aurora for his own, but he can’t reach her. Finally, one day, he decides to kidnap her. He holds her in his basement. He lies about how she got there. They bond. He learns about all her goals and dreams that have now been ruined because he decided to kidnap her and hold her hostage. They have sex. They fall in love.

Until one day, she learns that he kidnapped her. This whole time, the man Aurora was falling for was the man who ruined her life. She’s mad at him. They fight.

Now let’s say he feels bad, does something heroic. She feels bad about fighting with him. He tells her he has a way for her to escape his basement – but only her. There is no way for him to escape. She realizes she can’t live without him and decides to live in his basement forever, giving up all her life dreams. They die together in there, alone.

Sound creepy? A little messed up?

Well, is it less creepy if it happens in space? I don’t know. While I could empathize with Jim’s unique situation, it felt a little bit like using “I’m lonely and horny, you’re hot,” as a justified excuse for ruining a stranger’s life. Aurora never consented to being ripped from her cryogenic sleep. She didn’t ask to have her life goals and well thought out plans shattered by a stranger. Her wants, needs, goals, life, doesn’t matter – all that matters is that Jim is lonely and she’s hot. Talk about prioritizing a man’s feelings over a woman’s life.

Again, this is not presented as an easy decision. Jim struggles with it for months. When Aurora finds out, she’s rightfully pissed. When Gus (Lawrence Fishburn) wakes up, he scolds Jim for what he did (after a discussion about how hot Aurora is *eyeroll*). Jim knows it’s wrong. Everyone knows it’s wrong. But this creepy behavior is eventually excused because *true love.* Perhaps it is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. We are supposed to empathize with his decision and want him and Aurora to end up together. We are supposed to root for their relationship. The movie is designed to make us *want* Aurora to give up her goals and chance at a future in favor of living and dying alone with the man who essentially kidnapped her.

Now, obviously this is fiction. It’s sci-fi. It’s not real. We don’t have to worry about making the decision Jim made. However, we are watching it in the context of our current world. Rape culture is a huge problem in our culture. Prioritizing male feelings over women’s safety is a huge issue. We get cases like Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist who was given a three month county jail sentence because the male judge worried that a longer sentence would hurt his swimming career. We get men shooting women for not responding to their catcalls and advances because they feel entitled to the woman’s attention.

Is Passengers perpetuating this harmful narrative? Or is it a harmless sci-fi movie we write off as being fictional and not applicable to the real world? I honestly don’t know.

In conclusion, I struggle with how to rate this movie. I enjoyed it very much. It was entertaining, visually astounding, and kept me on the edge of my seat. Plus, I always love a good examination of a moral dilemma. However, I’m still a bit stuck on romanticizing Jim’s behavior. I’d say go see it, but maintain a critical eye. If you see it with your kids or teens, it can be a great conversation starter on our culture’s views on consent.