Review: “Kita adalah sepasang kekasih yang pertama bercinta di luar angkasa. Seperti takkan pernah pulang, kau membias di udara dan terhempaskan cahaya…”
That piece of beautiful metaphor-ridden lyrics from Indonesian indie hero, Melancholic Bitch, heaves as my mind attempts to internalize the whole sense in Morten Tyldum’s Passengers. Roughly, those lyrics tells a story of the first couple of lovers, who make love in space despite the tragic life they’re living in. Sounds familiar It’s Passengers’ plot in brief.
Passengers is a journey, an unexpected journey set in Avalon, a starship transporting 5000 cryo-sleeping passengers to Homestead II, a new human colony, 120 years away from Earth. Unfortunately, a malfunctioned pod accidentally wakes a passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), 90 years before the arrival. The closest help is 30 years away behind him; the fastest assistance he can have needs 55 years to reach him. Out of isolation, Jim befriends a bartender android, Arthur (Michael Sheen), and does whatever he can do with the facilities, e.g., playing basketball, watching films, playing augmented reality game, or space-walking. Bottom line: he is isolated from “living” human.
During the loneliest days of his space Cast Away life, mentally deteriorating Jim meets Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), whom Arthur calls as “the sleeping girl”, an allusion to Aurora the Sleeping Beauty. Aurora is Jim’s quantum leap; she’s bringing chaos and order to his life. But, more, she sparks the romance in space as cited previously: sepasang kekasih yang pertama bercinta di luar angkasa, the first couple to make love in space. There’s no going back for them and the destination is at the dawn of their life (if they survive that long); there’s nothing they can do but filling each other for as long as they can. Question is: do they actually wake up for a reason? Or simply malfunction?
Jon Spaihts’s blacklist-darling screenplay simply is self-contained. It’s a space romance for most of the time; but there are moments when it is leaning towards survival thriller (like Gravity), existential drama (like Cast Away) or, even, a philosophical space story. But, when you thought Passengers voyage in a metaphorical way, you’re half right, but eventually, wrong.
Note that Passengers is not your celebrated cerebral sci-fi that recently finds a new ground of fame. It is a space romance that fails to manage sense of priority. It fails to dig out the character study of a man stranded alone in space; it lights the fire of a promising conflict too early and confuses in directing where the continuation might lead; and eventually, it opts to conclude it with a generic, less-meaningful third act.
The premise is fascinatingly compelling as we know that unfortunate Jim wakes into his slow death. Problem is: we are exposed to him having fun with the situation almost all the time, instead of having details on how he copes up with the truth and how the situation affects him mentally (not only physically). There’s a moment when Jim seemingly loses all the hopes and decides to attempt suicide; but the build up to this melancholy moment isn’t convincing enough. On the contrary, the best moment in Passengers immediately follows that non-profound build up.
Passengers becomes much more interesting when Jim ‘meets’ Aurora. Meeting her is a conflicting moment; but, what follows is more enticing. Romantic bliss is celebrated in the air, turning ‘outer space’ backward being ‘inner space.’ Undoubtedly, chemistry between both stars, Pratt and J-Law plays enormous role in portraying ‘the most bittersweet romance in the space’ to the extent that audiences are rooting to their relationship. This romance, at some points, is a feel-good, but it gets enough hook to produce lots of tension. In short, it might resemble Blue Lagoon but in a more sympathetic way.
However, Passengers gives this guilty-ridden relationship short lifespan as it gives it in too soon for a spectacle that “should be in a sci-fi film.” While Tyldum could explore the possibilities and approaches to make the relationship works as a grand love story, he tends to hastily finish playing with it and gives the characters a reason why they are awaken too early.
The sudden conclusion is no match for the feel-good romance it has built all over. While it is lit in the first half, the fire deteriorates following the bitter revelation and is put down entering the third act that doesn’t add up. There is a rushed cameo from Lawrence Fishburne, which I thought would be the ‘snake’ to this Adam and Eve story in the space but isn’t, which unravels a new urgency that distracts the old, enticing one. Moreover, how the plot trivializes the main conflicts make it more like there’s an invisible deus ex machina. Adding layers of conflict to this story is actually a safe way to end it the way a fairy tale ends. And, Passengers does not choose to be an epic; it chooses to be a space fairytale and it works.
In the end, the self-contained space fairytale, Passengers, has the fire simmers in fervent love story to a whole new level. However, the lack of depth in crafting audiences’ sympathy towards the character and the third act that doesn’t add up make it fall short into some trivial love story, not a grand one.