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Passengers, for all its plot twists disappoints with its poor exploration of women and their autonomy.
I went to see the new space movie in town, Passengers, last night, anticipating a decent space-thriller-drama-fest on the lines of The Martian, even if not quite achieving the high of Gravity.
What I did not expect? To find a potentially interesting space movie overtaken by its creepy-stalker-dudebro protagonist whose actions (and the movie’s silence on them) entirely ruined it for me.
Some spoilers ahead
It would be difficult to discuss the problematic aspects of this movie without revealing anything about the plot, so here it goes. A spacecraft is taking 5000 people in hibernation to a newly colonised planet; except, one passenger (‘Jim Preston’, played by Chris Pratt) wakes up 90 years before the allotted hour to discover that something has malfunctioned, and he is all alone, doomed to spend out his remaining years on a lonely journey, dying before he will ever reach the new homeland.
Going almost crazy in his subsequent isolation, he takes the morally problematic decision to wake up one other passenger (‘Aurora Lane’ played by Jennifer Lawrence), knowing fully well that he is roping her to his own doomed fate.
It is not of course difficult to empathise with the plight of a man left to spend the rest of a (potentially long) life alone on a journey going nowhere for him. I could fully understand why Jim makes the terrible choice to wake up Aurora, even though it is ‘murder’ as she puts it later.
Here is what is deeply troubling though. Jim does not wake up ‘a passenger’ out of sheer loneliness. He chooses Aurora after fetishing her young and attractive body lying in her hibernation pod, and subsequently viewing her creative work (she is a writer) while she is still asleep. Moreover, after she emerges from hibernation and goes through many of the bewildering emotions that he went through himself, he chooses not to reveal his actions.
Instead, he allows (in fact, cultivates) a deeply emotional as well as sexual relationship with her.
Watching this relationship play out on screen, I found it highly violative, and was not surprised that Aurora’s first reaction when she learns of the deception, is to feel like throwing up. What is surprising is that the rest of the movie devotes very little attention to this.
Aurora is angry, yes, but while she is furious at her life having been drastically altered in this manner, there is no exploration of the fact that her consent was gained under entirely false pretences. Jim Preston continues to be shown as a ‘decent fella’ who made a terrible choice under terrible circumstances. While I can understand a terribly lonely person making the choice to get along another person for the ride, what kind of person sleeps with another under such false pretenses? A creepy-dudebro-rapist, that’s who. And seriously, do a single man and woman on a spaceship necessarily have to get it on? There are so many other ways this story could have been explored interestingly, than to devolve into a mushy love story where not only is consent violated, but the violation of consent is not even referred to in any meaningful manner.
Despite some good plot twists, excellent gravity defying sequences and competent acting from the cast, I came away with a bad taste in my mouth after watching Passengers.
It is not my case that movies must show only stellar protagonists who make the best choices at all times. As in life, so on screen, there is surely place for all kinds of people, including those who make bad choices in bad situations.
However, the movie’s exploration of what a woman’s distress in such a situation might be, is very superficial. If you are stranded with your creepy stalker on a deserted island, you may build a raft together to row to safety, but do you also have to fall in love with him again?
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