I recently watched Passengers with some friends, and found it utterly fascinating. It’s gotten a lot of flack for the perception that it gives a questionable message about consent–although on a metaphorical level. I didn’t see that at all. In fact, I thought it raised some very interesting, complicated moral questions and invited the viewer to think them through. Let’s get to the plot, and maybe this will make more sense!
The Avalon is a sleeper ship bound for a colony world, with crew and passengers in hibernation for the 120 year journey. 30 years in, a sleeping pod fails and one of the passengers, Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up. He can’t call for help, he can’t leave the ship, he can’t go back into hibernation, leaving him stranded on a luxury cruise ship alone for the next ninety years. He really tries to cope, but ultimately can’t handle the solitude–and then he sees Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), another passenger, and starts contemplating waking her up. He won’t be alone, but she’ll be trapped too. When I tell you she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence you know she won’t sleep the entire movie! So of course he wakes her up, and the rest of the story is about the fall-out of that decision.
So the apparent consent issue is about him choosing to wake her up. And it’s true she didn’t get a say in that. But the movie never acts like that’s okay. That’s actually what I really liked–the movie doesn’t pass a moral judgement. It shows the dilemma, it shows Jim’s agony that leads him to the decision…and it shows Aurora’s agony as a result. It shows the truth of the situation and lets the viewer think about it.
So it’s Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence–so of course there’s a romance. But I also felt like the movie went to great lengths to show that Jim doesn’t pressure Aurora once she wakes up. It also isn’t that he simply sees her and wakes her based on what she looks like asleep. Aurora is a writer, and Jim reads all her writing and watches video interviews of her before he even thinks about waking her. Yes, she’s beautiful, but he clearly sees her as a person, not just a face.
I also really liked the way Aurora was portrayed throughout. She’s never just a projection of Jim’s desires. She has dreams and goals and carries on with them even under insane circumstances. She makes her own life on the ship, and isn’t just subsumed into his. And when the action picks up and there’s more danger, she’s as much a part of dealing with it as he is. She might have the same name as Disney’s sleeping princess, but she doesn’t need rescuing. In the one (admittedly central!) decision to wake her up she had no agency, but she does at every other point in the movie.
And despite being on a ship where everyone else is asleep, the movie does get past the Bechdel test–Aurora watches a video message from a (female) friend wishing her bon voyage and hoping she succeeds in her dreams. I don’t actually think much of the Bechdel test, but in this particular case, that scene does support the portrayal of Aurora as a person with a full life of her own (more than Jim, actually).
I feel like this review is mostly a feminist discussion, but that was a major piece around this movie. And I’d say it’s positive on every level–with one questionable plot point right at the heart of it all. But that questionable plot point is portrayed as questionable, and ultimately leaves it to the viewer to decide if Jim was right or wrong, and if he was wrong, is there still room to forgive him?
Aside from all the moral quandaries of the movie (although that is the chief fascination), it was an intriguing premise with a well-realized setting, complex and well-explored characters, and a heart-pounding tense climax. I enjoyed it a lot–and clearly it made me think too!
Anyone else watched this one? I’m very curious what you thought if so!
Buy it here: Passengers