Morten Tyldum's "Passengers": Movie Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Morten Tyldum, Passengers, Jennifer Lawrence, Swimming Pool

Are we cursed to long for a human contact when we are deprived of it? Or is it a blessing which retrieves one from the spiral of madness slowly overtaking the sensibilities in period of its prolonged absence? Man needs to share his pathos with the beings of his kind. Indeed, man is a social animal. 

A company called Homestead is carrying in Avalon starship a few thousand colonists, on a space odyssey to a new planet, who are all kept inside hibernation pods which will take about 120 years. We enter the story 30 years into the journey when due to some unexplained technical error one of the passengers, Jim Preston, a mechanical engineer wakes up from his pod to find that he is the only human awake on the spacecraft. 

Though all the amenities are present, Jim, not being a ‘Gold’ passenger, has no access to the luxuries so he has to settle with the same coffee and food every day which along with other things invariably leads to boredom and he turns to seek adventure. He puts on the spacesuit and ventures out. Suspended by a secure rope, he jumps and floats like a weird feather in the vast empty space. Jim, rendered tiny and insignificant amid the cosmic infinity, is a surreal experience to be exposed to in 3D. That feeling of nothingness below one’s feet sends a shiver through the spine. The eternal stretch of darkness about every possible direction and dimension with nothing to latch on and the sight of distant celestial objects and dust clouds light years away forming abstract visual patterns which reduces even the most extraordinary sensations to banality in retrospect and you would wish that it continued for time indefinite to absorb the absurd serenity beneath which lurks the chaos and energy of the highest order only because we are aware subconsciously being seated in comfy seats secured from the untameable forces of the extra-terrestrial.

Morten Tyldum's Passengers, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, swimming pool, getting cozy

Luckily for Jim, there is Arthur--the android bartender. Akin to the best bartenders, with drinks he serves complimentary advice too. After a year, Jim is on the verge of insanity after failing at every attempt he could think of to resume the hibernation. In utter hopelessness he stumbles upon Aurora Lane and within an instant he is left mesmerized by her beauty. His love for her is primordial and pure at once. The only thing which can placate him off his plight is love. Jim being considerate takes his time and then opens the pod as the last resort. Before things get cute, Aurora is livid on learning that Jim is lying and has actually woken her up deliberately. Another technical error and Gus, a crew member, wakes up who apparently has access to the control system. He provides them with valuable information which would help them to fix the malfunction. 

Passengers is not an out and out academic level sci-fi astrophysics movie. A curious exercise in philosophy it seems at first but fails at exploring the interesting idea which the initial build-up promises and descends towards the realms of yet another survival story which has none of the elements it should have--neither dynamic characters nor enough events while also runs for 20 extra minutes which further eliminates the little excitement it could have mustered up.

Morten Tyldum's Passengers, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, cat pose

Jennifer Lawrence as always is terrific in her role as Aurora. She nearly outdoes the character itself as it is rather flat to accommodate the contours of her performance. The dialogues seem like they are picked straight out of an average movie. Most of the exchanges--whether dialogue or emotional or situational--lack any credibility to it and are devoid of observation and thought. The drama is shallow and superficial and one could barely feel a tinge when the characters are supposed to be on their ‘edge’. The only intensity which reaches the audience is due to the sheer ability of Jennifer Lawrence who has such mastery over her craft that she manages to do in a flash of few moments what the whole film cannot do in an hour. 

Chris Pratt as Jim os good in bits but overall his performance isn’t consistent but given the scope of the character he isn’t the one to blame for the technical shortcomings. Due to the dull beginning, he keeps trying to catch up later but lags behind during the key scenes because there isn’t enough focus on the character to woo the audience. Jim lacks an identity which is why Chris Pratt struggles to interpret and channelize the character’s internal motivations and behaviour patterns which blaze unabashedly during the emotional scenes where he gets found out. Naturally so, he shines in the scenes where he is required to be stoic. Michael Sheen as Arthur does a fine job and he is probably the most convincing character. The android isn’t only witty, but also showcases an array of other emotions which are surprisingly convincing. The services of Laurence Fishburne too are poorly used.

Morten Tyldum's Passengers, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, wearing cosmo suits

The starship is designed with good attention. However, it is the beautiful bar which hosts the romance between the two leads. The limitation of such confined movies is that there is not much room to be creative except with the narrative ideas. This is also the strength in some cases which directs all the attention of the viewer towards the thoughts being expressed rather than delighting them with superficial decorations and melodrama. It wouldn’t have mattered had it not been setup in outer space because it never really provides its backdrop enough leverage to begin with. 

So it isn’t like Interstellar, or Arrival, or even the widely successful Gravity which it was closest to as a sci-fi movie. It is just Passengers--a one-time theatrical 3D entertaining affair far from memorable. Go for it if that’s what you are after, leave it if you are looking for some thought provoking experience.

Rating: 5/10

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