One of the chief issues with most cinema is that toxic behaviours are often packaged as appropriate, considerate, and even loving. Film and television alike are overflowing with toxic masculinity in the form of Nice Guys ™. You know the sort: soft-spoken, often bumbling but brilliant, and completely focused on their own wants and needs, often to the detriment of the objects of their obsessions. Passengers is absolutely no exception to this dangerous rule.
Aboard the starship Avalon, which is carrying 248 crew members and 5,000 passengers/colonists to their new home planet, aptly named Homestead II, we meet Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). The journey to Homestead II is 120 years from Earth, but due to a ship malfunction, Jim awakens from his hibernation pod 90 years early. Whoopsies! Jim is a mechanical engineer, but it doesn’t take a scientist to realize that, since he can’t get back into his pod, he definitely won’t live long enough to see Homestead II. For an entire year, Jim has no one but the ship’s android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), for company. He grows more lonely and despondent, venturing dangerously close to alcoholism, until one day, he notices another passenger, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), in her pod. After wrestling with the moral implications of awakening her, fully aware that doing so would damn her to the same fate as his own, to die long before Avalon ever reaches its destination, he decides to do it anyway. That’s right, folks: Nice Guy ™ Jim decides to awaken a woman whom he becomes infatuated with after seeing her in her pod and looking at 3 minutes of her video footage, deciding that her dreams, her consent, and her future matter far, far less than his desire for companionship.
Jim tampers with Aurora’s pod, swearing Arthur to secrecy, and he and Aurora hit it off immediately. They spend most of their time together, quickly becoming close friends, and falling in love. Which begs the question: What would Jim have done if Aurora had turned out to be quite different than he had imagined? Would he have kept tampering with random women’s pods until he found his perfect match? Just how far would Jim have been willing to go? He’d already made it clear that he was consent wasn’t something he needed.
Eventually, Aurora learns the truth about her pod’s “malfunction”, and proceeds to treat Jim with callous dismissal at best, and physical assault at worst. We see her go through the stages of grief, for the life that she could have had on Homestead II, for the very first time, now that it’s become clear that the man she loves is the person who has doomed her to a premature death. Jim and Aurora’s respective situations are presented to the audience as if they are equal, but they are not. What happened to him was am accident. What he did to her was a very deliberate choice, one without any regard to her autonomy whatsoever.
When another person, Chief Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne), awakens from his hibernation, Jim and Aurora realize that what happened to Jim was no mere fluke, but the result of the ship passing through an asteroid field, and that the ship has been malfunctioning exponentially for the past two years. This is the part of the movie where epic asshole Nice Guy ™ Jim is presented with a very convenient means of redeeming himself.
One of the more interesting aspects of Passengers was how it was received by so many as a sci-fi romance. Sure, there’s something wrong with the Avalon, but Jim doesn’t know that when he decides to awaken Aurora. What he, and the audience, knows is that awakening her will inherently make him her only source of companionship, and destroy any future she could have had on Homestead II. This isn’t romantic in the least, and is nothing short of manipulative and possessive. But he “means well” (read: means to get laid and have a regular dinner companion), and he does come through in the end, so let’s just brush aside the fact that he pulled another human being into his crisis and exploited her grief and isolation.
Passengers, as aforementioned, is one of many films glorifying toxic masculinity and male entitlement to the time and company of women, in one of the more overt ways I’ve ever seen. As attractive a couple as Pratt and Lawrence make, and as great as the special effects and dialogue in Passengers are, this film might be one of the most passively toxic and aggressively misogynist I’ve seen in recent years.
I give this one 3.5 stars.