Monday, January 2, 2017

PASSENGERS (Spoiler Alert)

Loving science fiction films as I do, I eagerly awaited the release of Passengers (Morton Tyldum, 2016), which I saw yesterday at the Kino Cinema in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Passengers  is a visually stunning film. The sparse interior design of the Starship Avalon gives more than a nod to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), an interesting contrast I think with the almost Baroque, elaborate design and detail of the ship's exterior as it moves silently through space.

The Starship depicts a world not dissimilar to our own and one we are moving progressively towards. It is an environment inhabited by computer screens, avatars and holograms, automated food dispensers, electronic communication, surveillance systems and robots that look human and dispense philosophy as one liners, as readily as they fill a glass or retrieve detritus from the floor. Human beings in this Starship world are in suspended animation like those poor souls attached to life support systems in hospital intensive care units, an indictment on our current sedentary lifestyle occasioned by advanced technologies as well as an allegory of the existential anxiety experienced by the loneliness of the individual in an increasingly dehumanized, mechanized society. Already many individuals experience little human contact except that afforded by advanced communications technologies, virtual reality, robots, video, text messages and voice recognition. For Jim, human touch and feeling is essential and he demonstrates Arthur's (Michael Sheen) a robotic barman, inability to experience either by hitting him in the face during one of their various conversations.

The narrative surrounds Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanical engineer and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) a writer, who are passengers on the Starship Avalon woken ninety years prematurely from induced hibernation on their 120 year journey to a new planet called Homestead II. Jim who wakes first due to a system failure caused by the ships impact with a celestial body, is faced with the ominous fact that he's the only conscious being out of the 5,259 crew and passengers. He discovers he is unable to re-enter his pod and return to a state of hibernation, so embarks on a series of endeavors, including an unsuccessful attempt to break through the door to the ship's control area.

After many conversations with Arthur, who suggests he enjoy the now, rather than dwelling on what is absent in his life, a philosophy associated with mindfulness, Jim appears to accepts his fate. He engages in the many pleasurable pursuits available to him. He eats, dances and plays sport with holographic avatars. He sleeps, walks around naked, grows his beard and dons a suit that enables him to safely walk in space. However compliant and pleasant Arthur is, Jim notes that Arthur cannot feel and so, his apparent human qualities remain sterile. A period of depression follows in which Jim considers suicide. However, this is not the only dark moment of the film for each time Jim engages with the barman we are reminded of Kubrick's other masterpiece The Shining (1980) and the sinister act that follows after Jack leaves the bar, heralding perhaps Jim's excursion into an immoral and irretrievable act.

After walking through a room filled with sleep pods he is attracted to a female passenger called Aurora. He accesses her electronic file and discovers she's a writer. He consults the hibernation manual with a view to waking her and is immediately faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not he should embark on such an endeavor, knowing full well she would never reach Homestead II and would be psychologically scarred as he has been by being prematurely woken from his journey. We are aware that he has been awake and without human company for one year and has exhausted all possibilities on the ship so can understand his desire for human company.

The problem many might have with this film is that the woman he wants to wake in order to lesson his boredom on his long and arduous journey is young, attractive and intelligent. The other issue of course is his total self-absorption and his utter selfishness at wanting to intervene in the course of Aurora's life. One must ask, if he has the ability to wake people from hibernation he might have done a little more research and attempted to wake technicians capable of identifying and fixing the damage done to the space ship.

He wakes her and their relationship is immediately built on a lie for he omits to tell her why she's awake when everyone else is asleep. He discovers quickly that unlike him she has a gold pass and is able to access better quality food for him. She has become more than useful and becomes Jim's love (sex) interest. She is, according to Arthur 'a great choice'. Jim is fully aware that given he's the only male awake on the ship Aurora would direct her libido towards him. He's in the ideal position of having no competitors for her affections and, apart from her own resilience and determination, she would be totally reliant on him. Everything works in his favor until she is innocently told by Arthur that Jim is responsible for waking her up. She is, of course extremely angry and unequivocally inconsolable, but is called into action when a number of vital systems on the ship begin to corrupt the general workings, causing chaos, her near death and the early awakening of chief deck officer, Gus (Laurence Fishburne) who advises Jim and Aurora that there are multiple system failures including damage to the reactor, which they attempt to fix. Jim's tether on his space suit breaks loose after he has successfully vented the reactor and Aurora retrieves and resuscitates him, saving him again from dying alone. He later discovers that the scanner pod will enable only one individual to be re-hibernated and he offers this service to Aurora, who decides to remain with him.

The final scene in the film shows the crew and other passengers entering the main deck, which is overrun with various flora and fauna, which must have been grown and nurtured by Jim and Aurora during the past eight eight years. One can only imagine that this scene serves to reveal how the main protagonist have humanized their environment by introducing a natural/organic, rather than a synthetic one on the ship and we are expected to believe that Jim is exonerated for his initial behavior by the fact that they have obviously discovered a way to reconcile the past. A voice-over suggests that Aurora has written the book that she began shortly after she was woken by Jim.

I am left wondering what was Homestead I?. Is it a name for Earth or was it another planet that was inhabited by human beings? The final scene does not reveal the presence of children so one can only assume that they were elsewhere on the ship or Jim and Aurora did not produce any progeny. I found this visually interesting film, but fraught with problems.

(As usual, please forgive any spelling or typographical errors). OK, hopefully all errors corrected at 2.08pm.

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