Passengers (2016) Parent Review
While not groundbreaking, this sci-fi romance does deliver an engaging two hours of what it could be like to be stuck on the longest road trip ever.
Passengers explores a timely topic during a period when people like Elon Musk are musing about colonizing Mars. In this movie, a private enterprise is offering Earthlings the ultimate permanent getaway: A chance to colonize what appears to be a beautiful sphere where there are fewer people and a great deal more serenity. (I say “appears to be” because the entire pitch sounds like the western expansion propaganda settlers of North America were once fed.)
Getting the people to the planet, known as Homestead II (the company has already populated a previous outpost), requires The Avalon, a massive spaceship tasked with ferrying 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members. Even at half-light speed, the trip takes 120 years, and that’s not very marketable. To avoid the worst road trip imaginable, everyone is tucked inside a hibernation pod. Ideally the occupants should sleep until four months prior to their arrival, but a malfunction causes a curious event that eventually awakens two of the passengers.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) got a good deal on his passage because he’s a mechanical engineer and the colonization company needs people who can fix and repair things on Homestead II. While Jim has a very utilitarian cabin with no porthole, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) paid full freight for her experience. A journalist, she’s determined to be the first person to visit Homestead II and then return to Earth. She’s certain the 240-plus-years roundtrip will make for an exciting experience to write about.
Strong emotions settle in when both passengers ask the proverbial “Are we there yet?” question, only to be told by a computer they are a scant few decades into their journey. The revelation sinks in when they realize they will live out their lives before reaching their destination. At least the cruise ship-like vessel provides activity opportunities, such as video games, a movie theater, swimming pool and a bar. And it’s that last location where much of their time is spent.
Not only does liquor help numb some of the feelings of desperation, but a human-like bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) is a comfort, even if his android programing is limited to a collection of the best patronizing responses you’d expect from any well-seasoned mixologist. (Although he functions much like the voice on your smartphone, he makes this stranded story a little more dynamic than Cast Away where all the character had to talk to was a volleyball.)
However, the bartender isn’t the only clue that this smart ship may be lacking in its autonomous abilities. Jim and Aurora discover an increasing number of glitches when the lights begin to flicker, the cleaning robots start crashing into walls and the breakfast machine dispenses a bushel of cereal flakes. Yes, there’s trouble brewing deep inside the Avalon and this mechanical engineer will be called upon to try and keep it patched together.
Parents greatest concern on this voyage will be the favored activity between this couple who have nothing but time on their hands. Three scenes of brief sexual activity are included with careful camera angles avoiding explicit nudity. We also see male buttock nudity on a couple of occasions. And the frequent conversations with Arthur also involve some serious drinking. Aside from this, there are only a few scatological terms and profanities, a brief scene of hand-to-hand violence when a character lashes out in frustration (a threatening crowbar is also shown) and a bloody injury from a mechanical failure.
Shot on huge, immersive sets that showcase carefully considered production design, Passengers visual efforts rank with the best space movies. The camera frequently gives us a sense of the enormity of this project and seeing our tiny couple within this space adds to the sense of isolation. On the downside, the story struggles with the usual problem of keeping two people busy with little other human interaction. This is especially true for Lawrence’s character who doesn’t have engineering skills and often plays the stereotypical helpless female while she observes her handyman cohort figuring out how to fix a nuclear reactor with a few things he has lying about the ship.
While certainly not a resounding endorsement for current long-term space plans, Passengers still delivers an engaging two hours of what it could be like to be stuck on the longest road trip ever. Anyone want to play constellation bingo?Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen . Running time: 116 minutes. Theatrical release December 21, 2016. Updated January 13, 2017
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Passengers (2016) here.
Passengers (2016) Parents Guide
Does this movie motivate you to imagine what you would do in a similar circumstance? How important is it to have other human company? Can pets or robots be a viable substitute?
Would you take a trip to another planet (assuming you could afford it) and leave everyone and everything behind? Aurora’s plan is to return to Earth about 240 years later. What would that be like for you? What do you think will change and what would stay much the same?
Aurora refers to William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, when she says we make plans like we are the captains of our fate, when really we are just passengers. What do you think she means? Why does life often not turn out the way we plan? What things do we have control over? How can you learn to accept what you can’t change, while working to make the best of our situations?