Passengers | reviews, news & interviews
Intergalactic two-hander starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt leads us into a moral maze
Despite being kitted out with a full-scale intergalactic spaceship and all known computerised effects, Passengers is essentially a two-hander for its stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Or you could maybe stretch that to a two-and-a-half-hander, if you include Michael Sheen's oily and obsequious bar-tending android.
Perhaps it's part of director Morten (The Imitation Game) Tyldum's point that even if you're surrounded by the most lavish futuristic technology, space is still an infinite and soulless wasteland of nothingness, into which all human life might easily vanish without trace. The set-up is that Jim Preston (Pratt) is one of 5,000 passengers aboard the good ship Avalon (which resembles an enormous gyroscope whirling through space, pictured below). The passengers and 250-odd crew members are all slumbering in hibernation pods as the Avalon takes them to a new colony planet called Homestead 2. Earth, we gather from the smiley, airbrushed promotional videos broadcast by the Homestead corporation, has become overcrowded, overpriced and overrated. Why not take the journey of a lifetime to a new future on a brand new planet?
Preston, an engineer proud of his practical skills, has decided this could be just what he needed. However, when the Avalon is damaged by a meteorite, this causes Preston's sleeping pod to open and wake him up. Imagine his dismay when he finds that instead of making planet-fall at Homestead 2, he's still 90 years away from his destination. And there's no way of putting himself back to sleep again.
The first chunk of the film depicts his efforts to come to terms with his predicament, as he vainly tries to break into the high-security flight deck to wake the sleeping crew or call earth for help. Writer Jon Spaihts has some fun satirising the familiar predicament of the frustrated customer trying to get sense out of a computerised helpline – he manages to send a message to earth, but then a recorded voice informs him he'll have to wait 25 years for a reply, and by the way that call just cost $60,000. Further humiliation awaits in the fully automated dining-room, where Jim's budget-price ticket only entitles him to bog-standard coffee (not the blueberry java or the Guatemalan latte) and a breakfast which resembles a dollop of stale cement.
Though he diverts himself with space-walks and jitterbugging with holographic dancers in the recreation area, the prospect of spending solitary decades watching the universe slide past weighs crushingly upon him. Things obviously look up when Jim's solitude is banished by the arrival of Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer from New York who thinks travelling to Homestead 2 and back would provide great material for a book. Not only is she a higher-class traveller with access to a superior range of comestibles, but she's... well, she's Jennifer Lawrence, equipped with a refreshingly feisty attitude as well as an eye-catching range of svelte sports and swimwear (pictured below, Michael Sheen and Chris Pratt).
But there's a huge twist in the tale, which I daren't reveal (though you can find out about it on the net if you must). Suffice to say that to Jim's physical predicament is added a weighty moral conundrum, which colours the subsequent course of his interminable journey and bends the outcome in ways not all reviewers have been happy with. I would only add that it's never wise to confide too fully in an android (let's hope this isn't Michael Sheen's final role, as he back-pedals frantically from that unfortunate interview where he apparently said he was quitting acting to join the struggle against fascism). This isn't 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even The Martian, but it's an entertaining movie offering some chewy food for thought.
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