Absolutely Immoral & Absolutely Understandable

It is not good for man to be alone.

Genesis 2:18

This is yet another one of the posts that sat in drafts, splattered with a few ideas of what I wanted to write after I watched the film Passengers back in 2016. This was before I had decided to stop directly supporting Hollywood as much as I could, something I have been mostly successful with excepting a family outing for Toy Story 4 earlier this year.

I recently had an opportunity to re-watch the film (without paying or doing anything illegal), and I enjoyed it less than the first viewing as I noticed more of the faults but still enjoyed the film overall. I recalled this unfinished post and decided to remedy this.

What interested me about the film was not the two leads — Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, or the love story but the premise itself. This premise that while highly implausible, sets up a moral quandary that is worth thinking about.  Jim (Pratt) wakes up while on a trip to a colony world and discovers he is a lifetime away from his intended destination, has no way to return to sleep and will therefore die alone on the ship. He soon works out that it is possible to wake up one or more of the others but doing so will doom them to the same life.

The initial part of the movie puts this character through a Groundhog Day-esque experience where he first tries to work out a way out of his predicament before accepting it and indulging himself in all the entertainment he is able with the only company being a robotic bartender. He goes through rage, hedonism, depression and this culminates in him coming very close to committing suicide by blowing himself out the airlock.

Soon after this he notices the passenger Aurora (Lawrence) in hibernation and becomes obsessed with her. He looks through the public video files and information about her and becomes deeply infatuated with her. Being something of a handyman, he works out he can modify her sleep chamber and wake her as well. Knowing this is completely immoral, he tries to drive it from his mind and even seeks advice from the robotic bartender. Although it seems much quicker, Jim is awake a year before finally deciding to wake her. As soon as the process is engaged he is hit with remorse and scampers off. When they finally meet, he does not mention his role in awakening her.

This is the most important part in the film but was not shown in the trailers or early promotion — likely because of the reaction it did provoke from critics. However, if the film had neglected this, it would have just been another boring romance film with nothing much to recommend it outside the setting, special effects and famous lead actors.

Now as the title suggests, I consider what Jim does to be completely wrong but also understandable. He could have done this, committed suicide or lived out his life in solitude the best he could. I imagine very few people would choose the latter if they were put in the same situation. The second viewing also got me wondering what the reaction would have been if Aurora had been the one to wake Jim up instead. I think it probable that considering who woke him, not even Jim would have minded too much.

After they fall in love, events lead to Aurora finding out what Jim has done and reacting exactly as one would expect. She wants nothing to do with him and does her best to avoid him. It is around this point that I am guessing the scriptwriter had trouble working out how to resolve this. As it turns out, another passenger is woken — the captain (Lawrence Fishburne), who reveals the malfunction that woke Jim was the beginning of a much larger one that will doom everyone on the ship if not repaired.

The film most people would have expected probably involved both characters waking up unexpectedly and then encountering this problem in the climax. Instead this is used as a way to mend the rift between Aurora and Jim and the captain conveniently dies of complications with his sleep chamber before the climax.

The film begins with the ship running through an asteroid field which was the cause of Jim awakening and turns out to have started a chain reaction of system failures that lead up to the final act. The characters are forced to work together to solve this and do. In the course of this Jim has discovered that the ship’s medical center has the capacity to put one of them back to sleep which allows him to amend for the evil he did to Aurora. Unsurprisingly, she decides to stay, grow old and die with him on the ship.

The fact that he can offer this to Aurora and that what woke him would have resulted in the death of everyone on board completely absolves Jim by the end and only a hard-hearted viewer would remain angry with him. However, it does take something away from the morality of his actions that a crisis saves him from directly confronting it.

The moral quandary is heavily contrived and having something similar happen in real life is almost impossible to imagine. The only close equivalent I can think of is the drowning man dragging his would-be rescuer down with him.

Something else that is hard to avoid noticing is the total lack of children. This is something of an Adam and Eve story though it isn’t at all Christian. It is hard to fathom that Jim and Aurora wouldn’t have had children during this time. Yes, they would have grown up without others to make new families with but it would still have been quite natural for them to have done this. The rest of the ship’s passengers even wake to find the main common area in a Garden of Eden like state. So it would have added a lot to the film if there were also some children or young adults wandering around when the rest of the passengers finally woke.

The amount of science-fiction films that are truly of the genre and also good, I believe I could count on my fingers. I would consider Passengers to be one of them though. It doesn’t seem like I am among the majority as the reviews I browsed seemed to be generally unimpressed. Had the film actually played out the way the trailer seemed to indicate; it would have been a far less interesting film than it turned out to be.

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