Passengers has been sold as a love story, but for the sake of dramatic tension films like it are often guilty of normalizing abuse
Ive long maintained a practice on long-haul flights of declining to chat with the people sitting next to me. Headphones on, face set in a frown: such is my fear of 10 airless hours trapped in conversation with a stranger. But now Ive seen Passengers, that predicament seems like a breeze compared to the plight of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence): shes trapped for 90 years on board a spaceship with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), and hes the one who trapped her. Yes, it sounds like the elevator pitch for a horror film, but this is a Christmas blockbuster: Passengers, curiously, is couched as a story about love.
In Hollywood, however, perhaps its not that surprising. A study published in the early part of this year indicated that women who watch films that portray aggressive, persistent male behavior stalking, in other words are more amenable to similar behavior in the real world. In other words, for the sake of dramatic tension, cinema sometimes normalizes abuse, recasting it as romantic. Passengers is intended to be a grand romance, but its also a story of a man manipulating a woman and depriving her of her agency.
The film opens with Jims awakening. Hes on a ship bound for a fresh new planet with 5,000 other pod-bound hibernating colonialists. Theyre meant to sleep through the 120-year journey, but a malfunction has caused Jim to wake after only 30 years have elapsed. Like a fabulous sea cruiser, the ship provides all kinds of luxuries, but with everyone else fast asleep, its lonely. Jim has only the company of a kind android bartender and some space Roombas that suck up stray cereal. In time, isolation takes its toll. Jim starts to dress badly, and grows a beard like a Williamsburg hipster. In a state of vodka-soaked desperation, Jim happens upon Auroras pod, and then he begins to wonder: does he have to be so alone? Jim was a mechanical engineer back on earth and hes read the instructions: he can wake her up.