Space Castaway

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in Passengers
Space Castaway
A Review of Passengers by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13           
Reel Rating, Three Reels            

            Passengers is a high budget sci-fi drama starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence; these three elements in the same sentence is more than enough to deserve a viewing. In addition to its intriguing premise, it brings up a number of classic questions of the genre like the vastness of space, the importance of human relationships, and the role of artificial humans. Yet the material is too thin for 3D glasses and would probably have fared better as an episode of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. It’s the kind of movie that didn’t need to happen, but I’m glad it exists.
            The Avalon is a giant starship carrying over 5,000 people in hibernation to a colony world called the Homestead II. Suddenly and mysteriously, mechanic and everyday guy Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up only to discover he’s ninety years too early and totally alone. He spends a year trying desperately to figure out a way to solve his dilemma, from bashing open the captain’s quarters, to refiguring the hibernation pods, to getting drunk with Arthur (Michael Sheen), the android bartender. At the end of his rope and contemplating suicide, he decides to create an Eve to Adam and purposely awakens another passenger. He takes a little time to consider the moral ramifications of his dilemma, but the thought won’t go away. After a thorough screening, he chooses Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a beautiful journalist. She is equally distraught at first but soon settles on accepting her fate and writing a book about her experience. Things go swimmingly as their friendship soon turns into romance, but inevitably she finds out. Now they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives with grief and guilt, either hating or pitying the other.
            For most middle class Americans reading this review, moral decisions are easy to discern if hard to enact. Yet there have been many situations throughout history, due to limited knowledge or odd circumstances, that demand far more rigorous scrutiny. Jim’s story represents the classic stranded island scenario. If you were alone on an island, how could you fulfill your Sunday obligation or confess a mortal sin? At one point, Jim contemplates asking Aurora to marry him. Since the minister of marriage is the couple themselves, would their marriage be valid if it was impossible for a clergy member to officiate? Jim’s choice to wake Aurora from hypersleep is a grave sin. Yet once made, how does he make amends? Is he supposed to ignore her forever? Jim finds his redemption when given an opportunity to give his own life for hers, not once but twice.
            Her moral path is far more difficult. From her perspective, his sin was akin to rape or murder. He took her life away in an irreversible and nonconsensual manner. Yet once found out, should she shun the one other human in her life? It’s an unfortunate situation that catches many families. What responsibility does a wife have to a husband who has abused her and seeks to mend the marriage? What response does a parent give a repentant child who has stolen thousands of dollars for drugs and landed in jail? Aurora stands her ground and refuses to mend the relationship until it is proven that Jim has shown true contrition. It is impossible to unwind the past, but certain selfless acts can pave the way of the future. Best of all – in a society where some sins seem unforgiveable – Passengers argues that even the worst deed can be absolved.
            Even if their relationship can be mended, the same cannot be said for their impending fate. Faced with decades ahead alone, is it possible to carve out a meaningful life? Many people live like Jim and Aurora – trapped by their social and financial circumstance, lost to the annals of history. Yet the quality of one’s life does not depend on fame, fortunate, or even the temporal contribution a man makes to society. Life is meaningful because a person is loved by God and in return loves God and others. Thus, a man with unlimited options can live a poor life, and a man with few options can live a great one. As Kermit the Frog once said, “you don’t need to have the whole world love you. All you need is just one person.” Without revealing too much, let’s just say that Jim an Aurora choose a very full life.
            All of these philosophical musings are lightly touched but not explored in great detail. Most of the film plays out as a survival narrative, like Castaway in space. One by one, problems arise and are solved, allowing the characters to live another day. Yet, in the end, it is not about surviving but truly living that matters. The difference is whether one lives for oneself or others, and this choice is made every day, whether in outer space or your living room couch.