Drama Reigns Supreme in this Delicious Sci-fi Thriller
Life is a journey from birth to death and we are all passengers that undertake this arduous mandatory journey armed with the companionship of fellow travellers whom we are destined to get acquainted with. Without the love and friendship of these comforting souls, every moment of this travel would feel forlorn and morose. Norwegian Director Morten Tyldum's Passengers seems like a sci-fi thriller from the trailers, but is actually a haunting drama that tries to understand the cravings of the human mind without being judgemental about the morality of the actions that such desires drive.
In an unspecified time in the future, a starship named Avalon is in a routine transit from Earth to Homestead II, a privately owned habitable planet, with 5000 passengers and 258 crew members in hibernating pods, a journey that would need 120 years. But an unexpected interstellar incident causes one of the hibernation pods to malfunction, leading to the awakening of the passenger in the pod, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), an engineer from the lower strata of society, 90 years earlier than the arrival time at the destination planet. As Jim desperately tries to find assistance and push himself back to hibernation, he is disillusioned by the fact that he would never see Homestead II and live his remaining life bereft of any human intimacy. Though he shares his grief with the Android Bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), who seems sympathetic to him, and enjoys the luxuries that the starship can provide him, his growing despondency and loneliness forces him to take a morally questionable action that impacts the life of his fellow passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a journalist from New York who comes from high society. Would Jim be able to make it to Homestead II? Would he be able to live with the seemingly immoral choice he made with respect to Aurora? Would he be able to find the reason he awoke in the first place? Passengers tries to find the answers to these questions.
Chris Pratt as Jim keeps it simple with his natural performance as a passenger torn by his love for the woman of his dreams and his guilt for the choice he made. His chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence is also picture perfect. Michael Sheen as Arthur is a picture of calmness and wisdom in an otherwise torrid and turbulent tale of human emotions. Its only when you see Arthur malfunctioning that you truly understand the horror of the situation that Jim and Aurora have found themselves in. Laurence Fishburne as the Chief Deck Officer provides able support and also acts as a mediator of peace between Jim and Aurora but there is not much for him to do in this movie. Andy Garcia is wasted in a blink-and-miss non-speaking role that am not sure why he even took up. But its Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora who holds the drama together with yet another splendid performance of a woman torn between the love for a stranger who may be her last human connection to the world, and her disgust for the same person who manipulated her life choices. Even as she beats the hell out of Jim with punches and kicks, we understand and even justify her violence and when she takes her final decision, we are able to understand the rationale behind that decision.
Tyldum and his screenplay writer Jon Spaihts keep the human drama in Passengers alive even as the meticulously crafted futuristic production design of the Starship Avalon is bound to garner praise for its stark attention to detail and vivid imagination (heck, i just wished i could secretly ship one or two of those robotic floor cleaners home). When Aurora's friend on Earth wishes that Aurora should find a real connect on Homestead II, as her life on earth wasn't exactly happy, she also begs her to reconsider her travel decision, as that would mean they would never meet again. This small snippet of affection brings perspective and humanity to Jim's immoral actions. We may love someone unconditionally but to achieve that love we may have committed some selfish acts, and however imperfectly it may have begun, that love still may be worth dying for. Passengers is neither a sci-fi masterpiece nor is it a classic drama, but it does surely make you think about the true nature of love and companionship and the extent to which we can go to achieve them, even though the upshot may be dazzlingly euphoric enough for posterity to remember.