“Passengers” (2016)

 

Not really a review. There’ve been a lot of comments, mostly negative.  Many refused to actually see it, based on its perceived disturbingly sexist aspects.  O.K.– Chris Pratt on a generation starship accidentally awakens. After a year of loneliness, he weakens and awakens Jennifer Lawrence.   Tananarive and I watched it together and more or less agree on the following thoughts–so this ain’t just a male perspective.

 

SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD.  DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND MIGHT.

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1) Welllll…if they’d plugged the plot holes, written more carefully and fixed a major Sambo Alert I actually would have liked it pretty much. But they didn’t.

2) The major question is: was his behavior rapey and stalker-y? Waking her up to salve his lonely heart? Well, yeah. But they addressed that his behavior was selfish in the extreme. And touched on something else: it was also human. And I’d bet that after a year or so of loneliness, the average person male or female would have done the same thing.

3) They should have known that the core idea would be more triggering for women in the audience who have had issues with stalkery guys. The core idea needed to be dealt with more seriously, by better writing and better acting. But I see no reason that the basic concept couldn’t be handled: that loneliness will override ethics, and that transgression can be forgiven given contrition. Give the average person a year of loneliness and yeah, they’d wake someone up. Give the wakee a year to think about it, and yeah, they’d “get” it and forgive…or even love. But I don’t think the movie dealt with things deeply enough, and to trivialize your thematics in this regard is a little queasy.   They could have had their romance at least partially by not having them be so cute that you knew from the ads they’d end up together.  Choose two actors who aren’t so damned pretty.

 

Now a couple of complaints.

 

  1. The entire story is an idiot plot.  My first thought was that out of 5000 people with skills, you wake up the five best engineers, and together you figure out a way to  get into the crew quarters and wake THEM up.
  2. Once Lawrence Fishburne shows up (more on that later) and gets into the crew quarters…exactly why don’t you wake up the crew, people who have trained to deal with the ship? Don’t tell me that there is nothing they could have done: they very specifically said there were replacement parts for everything, and in fact our heroes replace parts.  That means that the possibility of failure was totally understood by the makers of the ship. Why the hell not awaken the crew?  If things could be fixed, that means that people would be fixing them. That means that a functioning ship would have allowance for crew waking up…and in all probability going back to sleep afterwards.
  3. Later, in the midst of the emergency, they mentioned not waking up the crew because they didn’t have time.   But after?  Was this entire ship intended to be used once? Are we supposed to believe that no one knows how to make the pods put people to sleep more than once?  Unless they very clearly, unequivocally state that it is impossible for some reason I cannot imagine,  simply waking up the crew, solving the problem, then using standard procedures to go back to sleep is SUCH A NO-BRAINER that I can barely wrap my mind around it.

 

So while we think they needed to write and perform the roles better, the psychology is fairly valid, but the plot stupidity was stunning.  And now two things.  First,

 

WARNING:  SAMBO ALERT:

 

  1. Racially, loathsome, and glaringly obvious no black people had anything to do with the decision making.  Laurence Fishburne turns up in the late third act to give exposition.  Oh, and to be a spiritual guide telling them to take care of each other. “Sacrificial Negro” pretty much explains the situation:  He was riddled with hundreds of problems from a malfunctioning sleep pod. That is pure White Author Convenience.   Look, the instant I heard he was in the movie, I lost my urge to see it: it was glaringly obvious that he would die, just as it was in “Damnation Alley” for Paul Winfield as soon as the white woman walked out of the nuclear devastation. Why? They weren’t going to let  Larry compete for Jennifer Laurence, and they weren’t going to pretend he wouldn’t be interested. The remaining option?  Kill him.  This was worse, as he died basically asking her to forgive Chris Pratt, sob sob. Only black man in the movie.  Sorry, but they should have just left us out of this ride.  Ugh.  If you want him, have another on Jen’s home video.  Or as an awakened crew member given a line of dialogue, and I’de have been happy.

 

  1. So what would I have done to save this thing?   I’ve mentioned a few options overall, but what if you can’t believe in a happy ending?  Welll…my friend Bill Taylor   asked an interesting question: what if she wasn’t the first one he woke up?  That triggered an instant thought of a better story.

 

Here is Steve Barnes’ answer for Passenger:      Tell the story from HER point of view. She wanders the ship for weeks, and finally encounters him.  They explore the ship together, slowly fall in love. Distract the viewer by having them think the story is about the two of them saving a malfunctioning  ship. Then…Have her discover he’d awakened her DELIBERATELY, had done it to other women, and when they failed to fall in love with him…murdered them. The third act is her struggle for survival. She kills him. A year later, insane from loneliness, she contemplates waking up a handsome man. Fade to black.

 

 

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