Now that Passengers is out, there’s been a lot of talk of how the trailers and commercials hid what the film is about. It’s not just a film about two extremely attractive people stuck together on a spaceship — it’s about something much more sinister and uncomfortable.
Odds are if you’re reading this you know what we’re talking about but, just in case, fair warning, we’re going to talk about something that happens 30 minutes into the movie.
As discussed at length in our review, Passengers isn’t just the space-bound love story the trailers suggest. It’s actually about the stunningly selfish act of one man (played by Chris Pratt) who dooms an innocent woman to death, (played by Jennifer Lawrence) by waking her up 90 years before she’s supposed to. He does it because he thinks he loves her, and because he’s lonely.
Waking her up is, literally, called an act of murder in the film, and others have called it worse. So when we spoke to the film’s writer, Jon Spaihts, and director Morten Tyldum about it in Los Angeles, we had to ask about it. First, we asked Spaihts if there was every any pushback from anyone, at any point, about the decision:
Maybe. It’s not as if it’s an accidental oversight of the film, where we, through some cultural blindness, have failed to see the appalling nature of our hero’s actions. It is the subject of the film. And I think that making a movie that leaves people room to argue about what they would have done, what they could have forgiven, what they can understand or fail to understand, I think that’s great. I think that’s good storytelling. What I don’t believe the movie does is endorse or exonerate anyone. The movie looks, evenhandedly, at the dilemma everybody was in. I think putting good people in impossible circumstances makes for fascinating storytelling.
We then asked the director how much discussion there was on how to handle such sensitive plot point (Note: His answer hints at a few other spoilers from the end of the film, in case that’s an issue for you):
A lot. And I want that to be the conversation you have when you walk out. That is the big thing, and we didn’t want to shy away from it. It was a very conscious decision. And there’s something very human about it. It’s about forgiveness and it’s about taking an issue from a relationship and then putting it to the extreme. Him giving her the choice at the end is super important. That’s when it becomes a true love story. Love is not selfish, or is about need. It’s about the other person.
And I wanted it to be a very entertaining movie that is not shying away from these big questions. And I think that most of us, if we had the choice, would have done what Chris’s character do. We’re lying to ourselves if we’re saying that we won’t. And I think also that Jen’s character and her stance, the moment he walks out [of the ship] and may not come back, she understands that, knowing she will be alone on the ship. And she understands. She completely understands why he did that. And I think it’s a very interesting dilemma and I was very fortunate to make a movie on that scale, such a commercial movie, that has this layer of depth.
I agree that a film of this scale dealing with such a shocking premise is admirable. I don’t agree that it’s handled as well as either the writer or director think, as I explained in my review. Nevertheless, it’s obvious they considered it and tried to make it as balanced as possible, even if the film didn’t succeed at that.