“Are we there yet?”
Most parents have heard that question plenty, that pleading whine from the back seat. We parents all know that kids today have got it easy, what with their DVD players and handheld games and all. They’ve never crossed three states in the backseat of a beat-up Yugo like you did. They never rode 2,500 miles to Phoenix sans air conditioning with a carsick little sister. But no matter: All those electronic doodads don’t make long trips any quicker. Not really.
Mechanic Jim Preston is on the longest of long trips—one measured in light years, not miles. He’s one of 5,000 folks leaving overcrowded earth for Homestead II, an earthlike world with (as the Homestead Company describes it) “room to grow.” Sure, it’s a 120-year voyage. But Homestead promises that the journey will go quickly. Jim’ll be in hibernation for most of it, slumbering agelessly away as the star systems slip by. He’ll wake up when the ship’s four months away from Homestead II—just enough time to prepare for a new life, meet some new friends and enjoy all the creature comforts the ship has to offer.
And then, one day, Jim wakes up. A friendly, digital face pops up to assure him that he’ll likely feel a little disoriented at first, the natural result of coming out of hibernation.
As the day goes by, he does feel better … but alas, no less disoriented. He’s the only one who goes to a mandatory class. The only one who shows up for breakfast. The only one, apparently, awake.
Turns out, Jim’s hibernation pod woke him up a bit too early. About 90 years too early. Given that the human lifespan is pretty much the same during the movie’s indeterminately futurish timeframe as it is now, the odds of Jim ever setting foot on Homestead II land somewhere between “None” and “Just forget about it, buddy.”
Are we there yet?
Yep, long trips can make you feel like you’ll never get there. In Jim’s case, that’s not an exaggeration.
If you’re going to spend 90 years knocking around a spacecraft—or even just a couple of hours, as audiences will with Passengers—you really need to like the folks with whom you’re spending time. That’s not a problem here. Jim and, eventually, fellow early awakee Aurora (which is also, you’ll remember, the name of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) are both quite likeable. Jim’s dutiful and kind. Aurora’s clever and creative. And when things on the ship really get out of hand, they risk their lives to put things to right—not just to save their own necks, but those of the 5,000 others on board.
[Spoiler Warning:] Because of the movie’s conceit, we know that Jim’s and Aurora’s lives have been irrevocably altered by the fact that they’re awake, and at first there seems to be no way to return to a hibernation state before they reach their final destination. But eventually Jim discovers a way to put at least one of them back to sleep—and he offers the chance to Aurora. When she points out that he’ll spend the rest of his life utterly alone, he says he’ll be OK. “I’ve been alone before.” But Aurora can’t let him do it, nor can she bear to think of him being gone once she wakes up. She decides to forsake hibernation and live the rest of her life with Jim on the ship.
Aurora talks about how we’re all subject to fate. Jim asks a robot bartender, Arthur, difficult questions regarding ethics and need. “Jim, these are not robot questions,” Arthur tells him.
Jim and Aurora share several intimate encounters in various stages of undress. In one scene, we see the couple on a bed together in profile, Aurora crouched over Jim, both obviously unclothed (though the camera doesn’t show us anything critical). They take another roll in the hay in which we see some passionate movements and the side of Aurora’s breast. Still another scene features the two of them in an empty cafeteria; Aurora lunges over a table at Jim and the two begin making love right there. (Jim’s shirt comes off before the camera turns away.) They kiss on other occasions, too, and for much of the film share an on board suite.
There’s no way for the couple to cement their relationship legally, of course: If a reverend is on board, he’s comfortably hibernating. But Jim does fashion a ring for Aurora, and it seems as though both would very much like to tie the knot officially if they could.
Before Aurora awakens, we see Jim’s bare rear a couple of times—once in the shower and again when he shuffles through the ship’s halls, naked. (He admits to Aurora that he didn’t wear pants for a month.) Aurora wears a swimming suit that is, essentially, a bikini (though see-through mesh connects the two-piece suit together). She strips off a dress in order to climb into a space suit, asking Jim to turn around as she disrobes. (Jim obeys, and we see only a bit of Aurora’s bare shoulders.)
As the ship begins to fall apart, the threat of injury increases. Aurora nearly dies when the gravity field shuts down while she’s swimming. A chunk of something shoots out of a machine and spears her upper arm: She pulls it out, and blood runs out of the wound. Jim is nearly burned to death by a dangerous on board fire. Both he and Aurora are practically frozen via the chill of outer space. Machines and statuary crash to the floor.
Another man dies from a bevy of diseases, at one point coughing up blood. Before Aurora wakes up, Jim considers killing himself, unable to deal with the loneliness. Aurora, when she’s incredibly angry at Jim, attacks the guy while he’s sleeping. She hits him, kicks him and nearly smashes his head with a metal implement.
One s-word and a smallish dollop of other profanities, including “b–ch,” “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice.
While Jim and Aurora are mostly alone, they do spend a great deal of time talking to the ship’s robot bartender, Arthur. Naturally, they also spend a great deal of time drinking. Arthur pegs Jim as a “whiskey man,” which he is. Aurora tends to drink cosmos and martinis. To celebrate something, Arthur suggests that they break out the champagne.
Alcohol is available elsewhere on the ship, too. The two share a French dinner with red wine. While alone, Jim instructs his robot server to give him another margarita. In the throes of his isolation, he staggers around the ship carrying an empty liquor bottle, finally throwing it against a wall in frustration.
Jim has a ship suite he didn’t pay for, and he shoplifts some nice clothes for a dinner date. (However, given that these acts literally don’t impact anyone else on the ship, it’s questionable how problematic they really are.)
[Spoiler Warning] Aurora doesn’t wake up on her own: Jim, overcome by loneliness, decides to wake her up himself and lies about it. When she finally learns the truth, Aurora describes the act as “murder,” forcing her to live out her life in a way she never intended. Her confidante doesn’t deny that it was a horrible choice, but rationalizes that perhaps it was understandable, too. “The drowning man will always drag someone down with him.”
Shortly after Aurora wakes up, she asks Jim how long he’s been alone on the ship. A year and three weeks, he tells her.
“More than a year?” she says. “I can’t imagine. It must’ve been so hard on you.”
“It was,” Jim says, and we see the sadness in his eyes.
Passengers ruminates on the power of loneliness, the beauty of connection and how each of these things color our worlds. When Jim, utterly alone, slaps on a space suit and takes a trip outside the ship’s hull, he’s overwhelmed by the sense of isolation—a seemingly solitary soul in an achingly empty, eternal universe. When he takes the same space walk with Aurora, the universe becomes a place of wonder.
Those of us who have family and friends in our lives can forget—or have maybe never known—how difficult loneliness is. If this film teaches us anything, perhaps it reminds us to connect with people—both the people we love and the people who may need connection more than they’ll ever say.
But let’s face it: If Passengers teaches us anything, it’s only as an afterthought. The film is an entertainment vehicle. And like the spaceship we see on screen, it does its job only halfway well.
Yes, it boasts Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, arguably two of the most likeable actors working today, and asks us to spend a couple of hours with them. The story itself is at turns gripping and romantic, just as you’d expect it to be.
But this cinematic starship totes along some unfortunate baggage, particularly in the realm of sexuality. It’s one thing to see these two actors fall in love, it’s another to see them making it. While nothing overtly critical is seen, there’s still way more skin here than you might expect in a PG-13 flick.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.