Passengers

 

            The CGI is very convincing, that we're really on a spaceship headed to a faraway colony, with everybody on board in hibernation for 120 years.  It even sounds plausible.  But despite the fact that this is some indeterminate time in the technologically-savvy future, we're still talking about humans here.  And humans make mistakes.

            Like building the spacecraft in such a way that a good-sized asteriod can do some serious damage.  Or maybe that's just bad luck.  In any case, the meteor hit sets off a chain reaction of computer glitches that result in one of the sleep pods being accidentally activated.  Now one of the “passengers” wakes up 30 years into the flight, and 90 years too early. 

            The passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), was a mechanic back on Earth, one of those guys who liked to get his hands greasy and could fix anything.  But Earth had become a place where things were simply replaced rather than repaired, and he felt that starting over on a new planet with a new life would be a fun adventure.  So he volunteered for the dream exploration voyage.  Except now it's become a living nightmare.  He's completely by himself on this cavernous ship.  He has no one to talk to except pre-programmed machines.  His only social interaction is with a robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), who will listen to Jim's plight, but well, empathy isn't really part of his program.

At first, Jim is so depressed he just drinks and sleeps a lot. He tries exercising, he tries accessing the ship's equipment, he tries to break into the command module but cannot, and he even considers just jumping out into space and putting himself out of his misery.  But then he happens to spot a woman alseep in one of the 5,000 passenger pods, and like Prince Charming smitten with the sleeping Cinderella, he becomes obsessed with awakening her so she can live happily ever after with him.  Or, alternatively put, misery loves company.

            Mr. Jim The Mechanic Man has also figured out a way to de-activate her pod and wake her up so she can be with him.  He realizes it's a moral dilemma, because it will mess up whatever plans she'd made to join the colonizers in 90 years, but finally his loneliness overtakes him and he succumbs to the temptation.  (Eve appears as a partner for Adam, but Adam has already met the snake.)

            Now we switch to an old-fashioned romance, where Jim and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), thrown together by circumstance, begin to develop an affection for each other, which is exactly what he'd hoped.  From his perspective, things are really looking up, until Arthur spills the beans to her that Jim awakened her on purpose---it wasn't an accident.  Now she's (understandably) furious with him, and won't speak to him.  Now we're wondering if the only two people alive on board this ship are going to spend the rest of their lives estranged from each other, but suddenly another person arrives on the scene:  a crew member, Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne), whose pod also accidentally opened because of the increasing glitches in the ship's computer system.  His awakening was a lot rougher, and resulted in some permanent medical damage.  Now we have a scenario similar to Sartre's “No Exit,” where the only three people around are not emotionally available to one another.   A high-tech Hell where things are literally falling apart all around them.

            Will our intrepid adventurers actually find a way to survive?  Will they be able to fix the ship?  Will they learn to co-operate with one another?  Does this movie even have a way of ending well?

            Even if you aren't into sci-fi, you can appreciate the moral dilemmas and the sudden change in circumstances for the characters.  It's also an interesting excursion into the increasing interaction between humans and machines, which of course are constructed by humans, but can they also be programmed to develop beyond their original design, thus introducing randomness to the equation?

If you're the only awake passengers on board this space craft, you'll have a lifetime to figure it out.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  If you have used voice-activated dialogue, how accurately are your words inscribed?

2)                  Do you have confidence that driverless cars will be safer?

3)                  Do you have confidence that automatic pilot in airplanes will be safer?

 

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association