It’s fun when movies are controversial. There is so much more to talk and write about. In the case of the recent blockbuster that wasn’t, Passengers, every review seems to have something to say about how the movie could or should have been better than it was. I guess this review is no different.
Passengers is not a bad movie. It’s slow and plotting, right up until the point where it isn’t, throwing the pacing off a bit near the end. It struggles to have an identify (rom-com-sci-fi-action-thriller-epic?), and every time it seems to settle in its lane, a shift happens. Of course you also have the very popular use of a mcguffin to lurch the plot forward, several times actually. It’s honestly rather distracting. It seems just as the characters reach a plateau the movie does a cut away to the exterior to remind us, oh no, there is actually something else going on here. That might be the movies biggest flaw actually, not the order of the film as some have suggested and I discuss below, but the truncated character development, particularly Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora.
I have seen some very well written and produced articles, reviews, and commentaries, and many drew similar conclusions, that the movie was out of order. The same movie, only shot from Jennifer Lawrence’s perspective, would have made the movie more creepy, because we would find out along with Aurora, the truth about her waking up. But that wouldn’t fix the third act. And really, it’s the third act that was the real problem. It’s the sudden extremity of the ships damage the catapults the movie from a character drama into raw action thriller, and the movie doesn’t survive that transition. Much like the Avalon it’s self, to many pieces start flying off in every direction. It undercuts all the development of the characters we have learned along the way. If the director wanted to make a movie that was a psychological thriller, then changing the focus to Aurora could have achieved that. To fix the actual movie made as I believe it was intended, which I believe started out to be a character study on isolation, the third act needs a re-write.
I submit that the third act was weak because it felt forced and unnecessary, and there was no resolution to it. The third act we got should have been simply a transition, one in which Pratt’s character does in fact die. His death, leaving Aurora in the situation of isolated and alone, would have added real meaning to the story.
I’ll explain my third act, but first let me outline what I believe the essence of the movie is and what makes it interesting despite its flaws. Simply put, it’s the humanity of Chris Pratt’s trial and ultimate decision to awake Aurora. We feel the tragedy he is facing, the isolation, just as we did in Castaway and other films, but the twist is he doesn’t have to be alone. Rather than needing to escape his surroundings to get back to humanity, he is surrounded by lifeless by very much alive people. He could wake another person. There are 5,000 of them. His isolation gives into temptation. This could have possibly even been explored more, where he builds Wilson-like relationships with frozen in time passengers before it really dawns him that he could actually bring them to life. And of course he does give in to this temptation, and the rest of the movie wrestles with how he is a really bad person for doing it. The love story could have been truncated.
[Side note: Another weakness is these two actors are so insanely attractive and charming it makes it harder to connect with them during the way too long falling in love sequence. You feel like you are watching Hollywood actors, not real people. When the time comes for a tone change, you realize that Lawrence is a significantly more dynamic performer. But I digress, back to the third act.]
The long middle, followed their fall out and then of course over contrived ‘coming together for the greater good’ finale is supposed to be the saving grave for Pratt’s character. He receives absolution from Aurora, and I guess the audience, because the ship is about to explode and he make a sacrifice (sorta) to fix it. He saves Aurora’s life, and the movie wants us to believe they are even. And the epilogue suggests they live happily ever after.
Jim (Pratt’s character) should have died, and here’s why. Aurora would have suddenly been faced with a new reality. She was so angry that Pratt put her in this situation, that she couldn’t see or really appreciate how immensely difficult it was for him. Not leaving time for them to reconcile, we would see her evolve from hating him to understanding him. She could return to him, preserved in the medical bay tube, first hating him, then talking it though, then breaking down. It would mirror how he spoke to her before he woke her up. Then we see the same thoughts creep in. The same temptation as before. She could have human contact again, it is right there in front of her. 4,999 other passengers. She would wrestle, she would rationalize.
End of the final act goes something like this. She morns his loss for a few months. She gets on by her self with only the bartender for a few months. And then the isolation and dread settle in. A year goes by, maybe two. You see, now we have a character with the complete picture. She knows completely and emotionally both sides of the story, what it is like to be awakened and what it is like to be alone. She is completely torn apart. She roams the pod bays, she reads about passengers. She writes stories with them as characters. Finally, she sits in front of one. A woman who she believes she would be friends with. She writes her letters and obsesses of little details in her biography. She visits this pod every day. The temptation grows. She stares. We see her sitting there, day after day, not speaking, holding the device to open the pod with.
Each day the camera closer on her incredibly expressive face, now reduced to the stoicism of a woman who knows exactly what she is going to do, even if she shouldn’t. Ever day she holds back the inevitable is a moral win.
She stares. The camera moves closer still. Stares.
She can’t live with herself if she does it, she can’t live alone if she doesn’t.
Closer. Stares. Closer. A deep exhale, eyes softly closing.
Cut to black. Roll credits.
Does she open the pod or not? I think this is a way more interesting and compelling exploration of the characters and the situation they are in. Done right, with less focus on the damaged spaceship and more time exploring the characters, this movie would have not only been really good, but powerful as well. Those are my thoughts, what did you think of the movie Passengers?