Posted on December 21, 2016 at 8:47 pm

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2016

“Passengers” is beautiful to look at, a pretty story about pretty people in a pretty (outer space) setting, but it cannot overcome the ick factor of its premise.

Everyone’s favorite boy we wish lived next door, Chris Pratt, plays a likeable ordinary guy who works with his hands named Jim Preston, one of 5000 passengers and 250 crew in a spaceship on a hundred-year journey to a hospitable colonized planet. Like the spaceship in “Wall-E,” it is set up with every luxury, from sushi restaurant to a genial robot bartender (Michael Sheen). The people on board are in suspended animation for a hundred years, to be awakened four months before arrival, to enjoy the ship’s amenities and prepare for their new home. The ship is gorgeous, though I am not sure how practical it is.

But somehow Jim awakens 90 years early and there is no way to return to his hibernation. He is alone on the spaceship and his plan to emigrate to the new planet is not going to happen. Instead of being a pioneer in a fresh, optimistic new world, he is doomed to spend the rest of his days stranded, sure to die before anyone else on the ship is awake. The ship’s help kiosks briskly inform him that malfunction of the hibernation units is impossible, a reminder of the Titanic’s “unsinkable” hubris. He tries to send a message to the home base on earth, only to learn that it will be more than 30 years before he can get an answer.

So, he basically turns the spaceship into a man cave, living in dirty sweats, growing a beard, drinking, and playing one on no one basketball and one on avatar dance video game. Finally, almost mad with loneliness, he starts looking at the files of the 4999 people still sleeping on the ship, and finds himself captivated with one of them, a journalist from New York with the fantasy name Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). After many discussions with the robot bartender, he can no longer help himself. He knows it is wrong, but he wakes her up, and he lets her think it was due to the same malfunction that woke him.

Decades ago, movies used to have scenes where the guy grabbed the girl and she beat her fists helplessly against his chest, crying, “I hate you!” until he forced her into a passionate kiss, after which she melted into his arms. These were mostly romantic comedies, but we saw some of this and worse in drama, too. Remember Rhett carrying Scarlett up the stairs in “Gone With the Wind,” and 30 years later, Laura falling for her rapist, Luke, on “General Hospital.” (Also see: Zeus and Europa, the Sabine women, the silent classics “The Sheik” and “Son of the Sheik”) But that just doesn’t work any more.

Aurora is entirely a fantasy figure. Even her nudity is highly sexualized, where his is not. By taking away any shred of agency or consent the script sets up an insurmountable obstacle to any kind of relationship for Jim and Aurora, which it makes the fatal mistake of treating as surmountable. There’s the getting-to-know-you part, and then she she-learns-the-truth part and then the not-talking-to-him part, and then the work-together-or-everyone-dies part, but nothing can really support the idea of the romance it tries to persuade us is happening.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi action and peril, sad death with characters injured and a sad death, some disturbing images, issues of predatory behavior and consent, brief strong language, alcohol, sexual references and situations, and nudity.

Family discussion: Why did Aurora make that choice at the end of the film? What would you do if you were left alone?

If you like this, try: “Gravity” and “The Martian”

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Romance Science-Fiction
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