I always enjoy a motion picture that gets my brain and emotions moving in an unexpected direction. What’s more, I delight in a movie director and screen writer who are courageous enough to not only treat their audience as intelligent beings but in fact expect their audience to deploy that intelligence to make sense of a serious issue, a complex plot, or uncomfortable dilemma. I have in mind movies such as Bug or Arrival or 15 Minutes. Some movies targeted at popular audiences promise the possibility of challenging assumptions and norms, but in short order get downright stupid. For example, Hancock promised to examine both the anti-hero and human nature’s tendency to relish and indeed take more sadistic satisfaction in tearing down a hero we ourselves were only too eager to build up. If you’ve seen this movie, you know it became downright stupid.
I recently watched Passengers starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Despite presenting several interesting options for intelligent plots, the movie ultimately gets stuck on stupid. Still, I found the first third of the movie intriguing enough to watch it no fewer than four times. Despite itself, the movie got me thinking and feeling.
The plot of the movie comes down to a Shakespearean dilemma for the protagonist character Jim: to wake up another or not to wake up?
Spoiler alert! Prematurely woken from hypersleep due to a mechanical failure 90 years before expected arrival quickly makes Jim a very dull, lonely, and sad boy. Alone, bored, trapped, and going crazy with it all, he decides to wake up another passenger with whom he’s fallen in love.
Which raises the first interesting thought project: Could you handle being alone AND being trapped for the rest of your life? Imagine being in solitary confinement with entertainment in a large, luxurious cell. In which you’ll die. Alone; no human interaction except with your own increasingly crazy self. Spend a few minutes playing out what that reality would feel like. Can we even wrap our heads around it? I think even the most die hard introvert would go crazy in such a scenario.
Enter the rub: There’s 5000 people all around you–asleep. Right there before you. Potential friends, potential family, potential enemies. Let’s play a quick game of Would You Rather? Would you rather be stuck on a spaceship for 90 years alone or with another person? Both scenarios could turn out miserably! If you would wake someone up to keep you company for the rest of your space-borne life, would you tell them you’re the reason they’ll now die on the ship with you? Because ultimately your choice is a death sentence for the other person.
I would probably wake someone up. In fact, I’d probably wake up a few people just in case the first person annoyed me. Enter the Sartre-esque French connection: an interstellar No Exit. Now that might have been an interesting dark comedy to spend two hours watching. Anyway, if you decide to wake one person up, why not wake up more? The passengers are on a colonizing mission after all, so why not colonize the space ship? Removing the value judgment of not having a choice in the matter and where we think a good, meaningful life can take place, what’s wrong with a luxurious space ship? There’s food, medical care, work to be done. Seems like a no-brainer. Oh yeah, except of course that you ultimately played god.
Which brings to mind a second French connection. Albert Camus’ work was often symbolic of a detached, disinterested, all-seeing god who set in motion a sort of human experiment then sat back and merely watched it all go awry. From a plot-line perspective, and again, devoid of any judgment, that might have been a fun, twisted experiment to run on a space liner…or at least an interesting movie to watch.
Anyway, these ramblings have allowed me time lay bare the real heart of this movie and the pulse that I barely felt with the tips of my fingers before the plot flat-lined.
In the end this is a movie about the selfish choices we make that impact the ones we love in overwhelming and seemingly unforgivable ways. This is a movie about the grace of forgiveness, for yourself and from others. In my adult life I have made one such choice. I have felt the weight of the reality of my choice crush me and the ones I love, a feeling manifested beautifully by Chris Pratt in a fleeting scene.
In the end, this movie – like life – is full of beautiful flaws, spectacular failures, and improbable love.