Jennifer Lawrence Chris Pratt Michael Sheen Laurence Fishburne Andy Garcia
The movie opens with the majestic golden space ship Avalon gliding through space with a canopy of stars all around and asteroids flying by. We don’t know it yet, but it will be 90 years before its arrival on Homestead II, the planet waiting to be populated by the 5,000 passengers aboard who are seeking a new beginning in life. They are all asleep in glass cocoons, “in hibernation”, until four months before the planned arrival. But if this film makes one eminent point clear, it is how challenging it is to imagine and plan for all possible eventualities in a complex organization.
It seems like every circumstance has been anticipated and planned for. The ship is equipped with all replaceable parts, and computers solve just about every problem that arises. There’s also a library with manuals seemingly covering every operation. Ah, but something mysterious is about to take place: One passenger is awakened 90 years too soon.
Try to imagine waking up in a sleek, ultra-modern ship with absolutely no one around. Voices of robots speak to you, but are obviously not programmed to answer the all-important question of “Why am I awake?” Your memory is fine, and you well remember signing up for the journey, but gradually it dawns on you that you are way too early. Fortunately, Jim Preston (Pratt) is a mechanical engineer who has the skills to explore the ship and figure out how to push the buttons that will provide food and other necessities. But he has no idea why he is awake.
Time goes by, and Jim’s one social salvation is the android bartender Arthur (Sheen)—always cheerful, chatty, and attentive—but still robotic, unlike the AI Ava in Ex Machina, who has the ability to reason. So Jim gets very lonely, even desperate. He gets curious about the other passengers and starts reading up on one, Aurora Lane (Lawrence).
Norwegian director Morton Tyldum knows how to portray intrigue, as in his previous films, Headhunters and The Imitation Game. Both are nuanced and pace the story well for thrillers, as he does in Passengers. He, and in this case with writer Jon Spaihts, illustrates so well human reactions in confronting these kinds of dilemmas. When Jim wakes up, we are there with him in his disorientation; when one character experiences extreme betrayal, we feel it; when there are progressive malfunctions on the ship, we’re mystified and on edge.
All this is supported and enhanced by the noteworthy performance of the two lead actors, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. He evinces befuddlement, abhorrent reaction, left-brain problem solving, boyishness, and tenderness in just the right degrees. And Lawrence is a consummately skilled actress bringing wide dimension to every character she portrays. She can be flirty, puzzled, or assertive in taking charge, and just as well show the thrusting pangs and anguish of having been betrayed or of deep emotional involvement.
It’s too bad that reviewers are giving away much of the plot that makes Passengers exciting. I liked that we didn’t know the reason for Jim’s waking up early until two-thirds of the way through the story or how it came about that Aurora was awake. Isn’t it ironic that studios confiscate phones before a screening to guard against divulging the plot, and then critics come out with key points on opening day or before?
This is a harrowing journey that puts us in a strange milieu where we wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.
A thrilling space adventure that shows humans forced to cope with unanticipated events.