It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.
Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
What the story should be about, and ultimately fails to be, is the consequences of impossible choices. Because, if you are reading this and don’t know: Chris Pratt willfully sentences Jennifer Lawrence to death, for his own ends. I don’t exactly blame him for this. It really was an impossible choice, and I’m not going to pretend I could have done better. You hope you would, but how could you possibly know?
But then the sequence of events in the movie retroactively justifies his decision by saying that instead of sentencing her to death, he actually prevented her death and that of every other passenger on the ship. Which is not unreasonable! From a sequence of events perspective, that outcome was entirely justified, earned even. But from an emotional perspective, it’s a copout.
I mean, there’s not much of a movie in “characters hate, avoid, and sabotage each other for the next 50 or 60 years”, and I’m not saying I wanted to see that movie. And the movie without the impossible choice turns into just an action movie with some light sex scenes. And I liked the movie they made! It was problematic by any measure, but I did like it.
You know what might have been nice? Reverse the roles. Jennifer Lawrence wakes up as a mechanical engineer, faces an impossible choice, chooses writer Chris Pratt as her companion, and everything else plays out in just the same way from there. Is there any difference in the moral or emotional underpinnings of the film? Not at all! But at least for once the lady in the story would be the agent of destiny instead of the reactionary hanger-on.
The patriarchy isn’t when someone does the wrong thing to someone else, and love and infatuation develop until the wrongdoing is revealed, and the first person is eventually forgiven for that wrong. The patriarchy is when the wrongdoer is always a man and the forgiver is always a woman, and the forgiveness is always the outcome. It would be nice to live in a world where I didn’t have to measure this movie against these standards and find it wanting. Because as a sci-fi romance film, it’s quite good… except for the context.