Summary: “Passengers” is a great film. Fine acting, intense drama, science fiction, romance, and clashing values. Of course, the critics hated it. See it anyway. This is the first review in Film Week at the FM website.
Review of Passengers (2016).
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence play average people coping with extraordinary circumstances.
They act as a you or I might, with a mixture of self-interest, heroism, compassion, and love.
Jennifer Lawrence’s new film, Red Sparrow, opens on Thursday. The title of my review (coming soon) tells the story: “Red Sparrow: spies, violence, sex, evil Ruskies, and feminism!” It is entertainment fit for Weimerica (like this and this). It shows a problem for girls in our time. Hollywood gives them role models that either kick ass or dominate men, or both. Such as Lawrence’s Katniss in The Hunger Games. It is a narrow vision of womanhood.
This is part of American films evolving into children’s fantasies, morality plays, and comedies. Hollywood makes few films about adult problems, something they used to do well. They regularly produced films such as The Night of the Iguana (Richard Burton and Ava Gardner in John Huston’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play). And A Thousand Clowns with Jason Robards, about a man weighing the burden of responsibility vs. the attractiveness of Barbara Harris.
Passengers is a film in the tradition of these classics. In it Jennifer Lawrence artfully portrays a typical women faced with a roller-coaster of events: marooned, romanced, betrayed, doomed — and a stark choice of alternatives. She and her co-actor, Chris Pratt, make us feel the stresses and emotions of two people dealing with extraordinary circumstances — risks and opportunities, with high stakes and high costs for every choice. Lawrence is the core of the film, whose close-up reaction shots mark its key inflection points. Few actors can do this as well as Lawrence, with her expressive yet minimalist style.
This is science fiction at its best. The starship Avalon provides a simple and isolated stage on which three people (Gus Mancuso is the Avalon’s Chief Deck Officer) grapple with a harsh situation, much like the island in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“.
The starship Avalon carries 5,300 colonists and crew in hibernation on a 120 year-long voyage to another star. An accident awakes one colonist 90 years too early. He can get no help from the crew, the ship, or Earth. There are no facilities to return to hibernation. He faces a lifetime of luxury and loneliness. But he can awaken someone of his choice to provide companionship. What would you do?
He does what most of us would do, although haunted by his decision.
Film critics have become enforcers of ideological purity. They went berserk at the sight of a man making a morally incorrect choice — yet unpunished. Empathy and compassion must yield to the rules (although as good atheists, they cannot state any foundation for these rules).
What irredeemably damned the film to most critics (Rotten Tomato score: 30% favorable) was the politically incorrect decision at the end by Lawrence’s character. No matter how dramatic and romantic, only Socialist Realism plots are allowed. Films must show the righteousness of PC values and the doubleplusungood of thoughtcrime. But it is fun to read the choleric rage of bien pensant reviewers.
The power of these stories
Among the greatest fiction are stories of people in extraordinary circumstances. The best science fiction does this well. A classic of the genre is “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Imagine that you are a pilot carrying drugs to save a world (a common Star Trek premise), but find a stowaway. You lack sufficient fuel to complete the mission carrying the additional mass of this young girl. What do you do?
The rebuttals to the story are similar to critics’ denunciations of Passengers. Such stories encourage crimethink! Cory Doctorow’s review reads like an audition to be a Commissar of Entertaining Arts.
“It is a story designed to excuse the ship’s operators – from the executives to ground control to the pilot – for standardizing on a spaceship with no margin of safety. A spaceship with no autopilot, no fuel reserves, and no contingency margin in its fuel calculations. ‘The Cold Equations’ never asks why the explorers were sent off-planet without a supply of vaccines. It never asks what failure of health-protocol led to the spread of the disease on the distant, unexplored world.”
Such things would never happen, even on distant frontiers, if only everyone would just vote straight-line for the Democratic Party!
For the rest of us, those not imprisoned in political doctrine, such stories are not only exciting but expand our thinking. They force us to confront implications of our values — and decide which are most important.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
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Trailer for Red Sparrow, to be released on March 2.