“Passengers” – see it because the critics hate it

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.

Poster for "Passengers" (2017)
Available at Amazon.

 

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.

Starship Avalon in "Passengers"

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“.

Jennifer Lawrence - 2011 Oscars
Jennifer Lawrence at the 2011 Oscars. Photo UPI/David Silpa.

The story

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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Films starring Jennifer Lawrence. 2 films, 2 visions of women.

Passengers (2016).

Trailer for Red Sparrow, to be released on March 2.

 

15 thoughts on ““Passengers” – see it because the critics hate it

    1. Longtrail,

      The problem with critics is that they are not reliably good or bad — just quirky. Some of that comes from seeing too many films, so that their taste diverges from that of the general public.

      The other factor — which I believe is growing stronger — is their doctrinaire leftist values. Anything that does not meet the current ideological fashions is condemned as if by God herself.

      I find the reviews useful, usually (not always) screening out the mainstream reviewers’ weirdness. Also, Rotten Tomatoes has reviews from more typical Americans. Also useful are their reviews from other nations. The first critics to give negative reviews to “Black Panther” were from other lands — protected by the ocean from the US Leftist lynch mobs.

  1. I’m looking forward to Red Sparrow because the book was great (and very cinematic). But I was a bit disappointed by the casting. It’s not that I don’t like J-Law, but in my mind’s eye I pictured Dominika more in the mold of an Eva Green — although that might be due to Hollywood as well.

    I think Bill Camp’s performance as Marty Gable will make or break the film (unless the role is under written relative to the character’s role in the book, in which case the movie’s probably doomed anyway).

    1. Sam,

      What do you see the difference between J Lawrence and Eva Green? From my slight acquaintance, one seems very American and the other quite French.

      Also, how big in the book was Dominika Egorova’s synesthesia? Was it a small skill, or (in effect) a superpower? It is not in the film.

    2. It’s really just a physique thing. Lawrence is curvy and a bit baby-faced. Green is svelte and dark-eyed. The latter matches my stereotypical image of a ballerina better, but also seems more in sync with the persona of a spy. Also, from the trailer at least, Lawrence’s Russian accent is not impressive.

      In the book the synesthesia is definitely not a superpower, but it is a fairly important character trait. It’s implied that it is crucial to Egorova’s tradecraft, and also to her ability to navigate the internal politics of the GRU, because she uses it to determine whom to trust. It would be very difficult to convey in film. (The author, although he has a flair for imagery, isn’t really a skilled enough wordsmith to pull it off in writing, either, to be honest.) Actually, it might be kind of interesting to do it with lens filters, a la “Traffic”. Dominika associates yellows and browns with dishonesty and greed versus reds and purples with trust and passion. I’ll be watching out for whether the cinematographer tries to capture this with lighting effects.

    3. Sam,

      Thanks for the additional color on this. I look forward to seeing your comment in response to my review!

  2. The critics are panning Red Sparrow. I’ll wait for RedBox.

    Larry, My daughter and I went to see Black Panther yesterday. Enjoyed it immensely. The little sister and leader of Pretorian Guard were standouts. Your critique was very good.

    Stan Lee and Vaughn Bode are still my favorite cartoon/comic book artists. Good to see Stan doing well. Sad but understandable what happened to hedonist Bode.

  3. I found this to be an excellent film. The fact that the Pratt character makes a very difficult moral choice in a way that most of us would have (and know we would have), and then handles it as most of us would have, is part of the fine realism of the film. Then the Lawrence character makes a conscious decision to stay with a man she otherwise would not have chosen or met, but stays because it’s the best one she can make under the circumstances for herself and for a man she’s come to care about and love.

    Ordinary human beings make decisions like this every day – doing the best they can under less than optimal conditions and “lesser of two evils” choices.

    1. The Deti,

      You make a powerful point ignored by the critics: empathy. That’s an essential element of realism in film, in contrast to the Social Realism the critics increasingly demand.

      In Passengers both of the leads make difficult choices. He under the pressure of madness vs. morality. She under the pressure of justice vs. forgiveness. That’s life, as you note.

      We see our society’s preference for children’s stories in the box office for this. The US opening was a bomb: only $17 million (reflecting the weak marketing and hostile critics’ reviews). The US box office was $100 million — vs the $130 million production cost plus large marketing costs. The total global box office was $300 million, making it either break-even or weakly profitable for the partners (depending on their share of the take).

    2. empathy. That’s an essential element of realism in film

      I’d encourage you and your readers to see two films: Chasing Amy (1997) and Blue Valentine (2011). Both movies depict the complete life cycles of two romantic and sexual relationships – in Chasing Amy, a very unlikely relationship between a heterosexual man and bisexual promiscuous woman; and in Blue Valentine, between a working class ordinary guy and a promiscuous working class girl who finds herself pregnant by another man.

      Chasing Amy is more contrived (especially the dialogue) but depicts the emotions of the protagonists very well among well developed three dimensional characters. The film realistically shows the birth, growth, life, decline and demise of a romantic and sexual relationship between two young adults. (Rated R for language)

      Blue Valentine is more gritty and realistic. It is unflinchingly brutal in how honestly it portrays the decline and demise of the protagonists’ relationship. This film was almost unbearably painful to watch, because the emotions of anger, fear, pain, resentment, and loss are so graphically and grittingly depicted. (Rated R for language and sexual situations)

      Both films refuse to take the easy way out. There are no happy endings in these films. The filmmakers chose to show that sometimes, most times, things don’t work out. There is frustration, intractability, pain, loss, and emotions and problems that either can never be resolved, or can be resolved only by ending a relationship. Because things not working out is part of life. Figuring out how to put it all back together after it doesn’t work out is also part of life.

  4. Feel a bit late posting here but I just saw this movie last night with family and I have to say I think it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years. Reading the so-called critics just made me laugh, they don’t know good sci-fi when they see it. The environments are beautiful, the acting stirs my soul, and the premise is thought-provoking.

    Much better than yet another adolescent comic book movie.

    1. American Muse,

      I agree! Most critics are giving ideological reviews, and freaked over her “Stockholm Syndrome”. They lacked the imagination to overcome their ideology and imagine the situation.

      Any thoughts on this review? I’m always looking for ways to do these with more utility for readers.

  5. Larry, you post links, you don’t give the whole plot away, you write up your thoughts intelligently, I have nothing but praise. I’ll let you know if I ever change my mind though.

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