Passengers Cat Is Out Of The Bag Also — Mother Of All Ethical Hangups In A Movie Theatre

I’ve been hinting for months that an element in the general marketing push for Morten Tyldum‘s Passengers (Sony, 12.21) has been misleading. The trailers have understandably been hiding The Big Secret (i.e., the fact that only Chris Pratt‘s character is accidentally woken up from hibernation) plus the fact that Pratt and costar Jennifer Lawrence have been flat-out lying about the basic set-up.

FAIR WARNING: A spoiler awaits…

Well, now that the film has been press-screened and two significant articles — one by The Telegraph‘s Rebecca Hawkes, another by L.A. Daily News critic Bob Strauss — have discussed the aforesaid element, the Passengers cat is totally out of the bag (along with the Peter Cushing thing in Rogue One).

And I mean especially with the Telegraph having asked its readers to take part in a Passengers poll, to wit: “If you were faced with living out your life alone on a cruise ship in space, would you wake up another passenger?”

SPOILER: This is what Pratt’s character does after a mechanical malfunction rouses him from hibernation after 30 years of slumber, and he realizes he can’t go back to sleep. The rest of his life will be spent completely alone on a huge space cruiser. (Except for the empty company of a robot bartender, played by Michael Sheen.) After a year he decides he can’t take the loneliness, and so he wakes up Lawrence’s character, a New York journalist.

In so doing Pratt condemns Lawrence to the same life-imprisonment terms, and an absolute certainty of death in space — no more terra firma, no more oceans or lakes or streams, no more community, no more internet, nothing except hanging with Pratt on a corporate luxury cruiser for the next 60 or 70 years, depending on the breaks.

When she learns the truth Lawrence exclaims that what Pratt has done is “murder,” and it is. But guess what? As of this afternoon only 41% of the Telegraph readers who’ve voted in the Passenger polls agree with her, or at least have a problem with Pratt waking her up. 33% think it’s okay to wake someone up on such a voyage (“Yes, why not?), and 26% have said it’s okay but “only if I really, really fancied them (and if I’d stalked them a bit first).”

A certain percentage are probably goofing on the Telegraph, but 59% have nonetheless stated for whatever reason that Pratt’s hibernation wake-up isn’t so bad given the lifetime of loneliness he’s looking at. In short, “murder” is okay.

Think about this for five or ten seconds. What a bunch of animals!

Here’s how Hawkes describes it: “Jon Spaihts‘ script feels more like a horror movie given the nasty acts of stalking, manipulation and psychological violence carried out by [Pratt].

“Driven half-mad by the prospect of living out his life alone, he peruses the ship’s passengers, and becomes fixated upon a sleeping woman named Aurora, played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence. He falls for her after reading her online articles — a faintly horrifying prospect for any writer — and then wakes her up.

“I kept waiting for the twist…the moment when the narrative’s ‘hero’ would be called to account for his actions. After all, he’d knowingly, deliberately condemned this woman, a fellow human being, to a horrifyingly lonely existence. Her only options would be to enter into some form of relationship with Jim (an emotional one, if not a physical/romantic one), or to remain alone forever.

“Instead, there’s a brief estrangement, before all is resolved after a big action set-piece finale.

“Effectively kidnapping somebody is fine, it turns out, because they’ll probably eventually come to love you anyway.”

Last summer Tyldum actually said the following to EW‘s Sara Vilkomerson: “Every generation has its love story. I feel like this is it. And [making it was] exhausting. It’s big emotions, it’s desperation, it’s love, it’s happiness, it’s fear, it’s anger. You will laugh and cry and hold your breath and be at the edge of your seat. It has chills. It also will make you smile and laugh a lot. We wanted a playful movie.”

‘Playful”? In fact Passengers is a hugely creepy film once the hibernation wake-up kicks in.

In Vilkomerson’s 8.12 EW piece, she wrote that Pratt and Lawrence, travelling on a luxury interstellar spaceship bound for the Homestead II colony 120 years away, are “two out of 5,000 souls traveling in suspended animation before they’re mistakenly awakened 90 years too early.”

Vilkomerson reported what Sony told her about the plot, but still…bullshit!

In a recent Vanity Fair cover story on Lawrence, author Julie Miller repeated the same vaguely misleading information, to wit: “Due to a mechanical malfunction, both characters wake up about 30 years into the 120-year voyage and struggle to survive while hurtling through space.”

Nope — both characters do not wake up “due to a mechanical malfunction” — only one does.

Here’s how Tyldum explains the ethical conundrum to Strauss: “In many ways, it’s taking things that can happen in a marriage to the extreme. The lie, the betrayal, all of that to the extreme, then starting over. That was so important, and I think Chris did such a good job. He’s an actor that you can really relate to, that you really identify with, and you can put yourself in that situation. I think a lot of people will say that ‘I would have done the same thing.’.”


  • Correcting Jeff

    Usually I’ll condemn the spoilers, but this “twist” has been so telegraphed (even before the trailer gives it away) as to practically be in Morse, so I’ll allow it.

    And yes, there is no escaping the fact that this is inherently a creepy move. Hell, it’s a complete violation– “murder” is indeed a good word for it.

    That said, I can see how a film would play it– “Had he never woken me up, I would never have known my soulmate”– but, SHEESH, still frakkin’ stalker-creepy. I expect the Jezebel SJW crowd to go medieval on this film.

    • Or maybe, “Had he never woken me up, I and everyone else would have died in space anyway.”

      I mean, something else has to happen, right?

      But it would be funny if he caused whatever crisis happens, and then everyone wakes up and locks him in a broom closet for the rest of everyone’s lives.

      • Michael Gebert

        That looks to be the case from the trailer.

  • Gary Springer

    So, it’s basically a movie about marriage ?

  • AstralWeeks666

    The essential question is does popular cinema reflect people’s messed up atttiudes to social relationships or have movies played a vital role in messing people up? I’ve seen numerous romantic comedies over the years where behaviour that would be considered obsessive and creepy in reality is presented as romantic and charming in the realm of a fictional romantic comedy. The onion nailed this phenomenon dead to rights in their classic story “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested”. Passengers seems to be mega budget variation of this kind of deeply dubious bullshit.

    • Jeff

      I fundamentally agree with you but Passengers seems way way different than typical romcom behavior.

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  • Michael Gebert

    I wish I had woken up on a space mission 170 years early rather than seen the first half of Nocturnal Animals, which is the first movie I’ve walked out on in some years. Truly an odious experience.

    • Mark Henry Hopper

      If you can make it past the opening credits sequence of Nocturnal Animals I’m not sure what’s left in the movie to offend.

      ETA: Except for Jena Malone’s jacket in that one scene.

      • Michael Gebert

        Yeah, I had immediate distaste for gay fashion guy throwing fat women in our faces. SO EDGY

        …but I stayed for another 44 minutes.

        I think it was the third time it cut back from The Hills Have Eyes to Adams. And I realized I did not care in the slightest about her or her uninteresting husband and his uninteresting affair. Nor did I care about Gyllenhaal taking a bath. (Tom Ford, perhaps, feels differently.) I came to the movie for a smart movie about the shallow rich and I got a shallow framing story about the rich and, somehow, a (very generic) Texas serial killer movie instead, or maybe Hot Rods to Hell with Dana Andrews. Basically it was bait and switch, like if the trailers for Don’t Breathe had made it look like it was A Bigger Splash.

        Apparently I missed Michael Shannon entirely. C’est la vie.

        • Dr. New Jersey

          You aren’t dissing Hot Rods to Hell though, are you?

          • Michael Gebert

            Only if the trailer made it look like Petulia.

        • John Cope

          Read the book instead. It is superb. It’s not about the shallow rich at all and the interior story-within-a-story is beautifully and brilliantly written (as is all of it) with great weight and pathos.

        • Mark Henry Hopper

          Well, the way the book-within-the-movie turns into a commentary on the lives of the Adams and Gyllenhall(real life one) characters was fairly well done, and explained why it was done the way that it was IMO. Except for the opening credits I thought it was pretty good.

          But no reason to stay at a movie that’s giving you grief.

          • Michael Gebert

            The irony is that I love that kind of thing in books, two of my favorites are Pale Fire and If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, but I guess I think they have to be done with a certain lightness of touch, a twinkle in the eye that says to the reader, come with me as I play you…

            I can’t entirely speak to the structure since I never saw it fulfilled, but the fact that the two stories are from entirely different worlds at the beginning seems an error. We should have had a-ha moments where we knew a little about (real) Gylenhaal and see it in fake Gyllenhaal, and we see something Amy Adams did repeated by the fake Gyllenhaal’s wife, and are allowed to peace it together a bit ourselves. At the point I left there was no one in the movie that I felt any sympathy for or interest in– Adams’ art (which was what, actual nude people laying there as well as video installations, or were they Duane Hanson type sculptures?) seemed so offensively exploitative that it was hard to care about her.

            • Mark Henry Hopper

              Yeah there is definitely a couple of a-ha moments in the movie, but they’re kind of subdued and you kind of have to think about them.


              The point of the thing as far as I can tell is this – IRL Adams character cheats on Author Gyllenhaal with Armie Hammer, has an abortion of Gyllenhaal’s unborn baby – Gyllenhaal find out about both simultaneously. She goes on to live the empty, shallow materialist life she despised in her mother.

              20 years later Author Gyllenhaal writes a novel that is basically about their (abortive) family – him and Isla Fisher and their daughter. The ‘nocturnal animals’ – his nickname for Adams – take away Novel Gyllenhaal’s wife and daughter and he seeks revenge.
              Adams actually sees a painting spelling out ‘Revenge’ at her gallery.

              The weakness in his character that Adams’ mother notes is noted by the Novel Gyllenhaal and he realizes the death of his daughter and wife is his fault for that weakness. It led the ‘nocturnal animals’ to wantonly destroy them.

              Eventually in the novel he kills Quicksilver and then accidentally/intentionally shoots himself and dies, symbolizing his despair over the end of his marriage and death of his child.

              Author Gyllenhaal agrees to meet with Adams but stands her up, leaving her literally alone. The movie underlines her loneliness.

              The novel was his revenge against Adams, and is basically meant to draw her life into contrast with the fictionalized version, who was pretty happy until the ‘nocturnal animal’ destroyed it. You’re not supposed to like Adams, she’s the villain, and all her scenes are intentionally skewed to make her and her choices less sympathetic.

              The best explanation I can come up with the fat naked grandmas at the beginning is that it’s an unconscious reflection of how she sees herself. Still would have rathered Ford find some other way to represent that

              • Professor Wagstaff

                Very subdued to the point it flew over my head. Thanks for clarifying all that. I could not make that connection watching the film.

                Not a fan of either Tom Ford movies. I don’t think he’s great with expressing a character’s interior dilemmas. I assume that’s why he made the lead in A Single Man suicidal when in the novel he is not. It’s harder to express the anguish of screaming in pain on the inside beneath a calm demeanor, but a phony external conflict (and an antiquated cliche of gay storytelling) and it solves that problem.

                • Mark Henry Hopper

                  I actually like A Single Man a great deal(never read the novel) but Tom Ford’s vision as a director is ICE COLD and RIGID. He makes Hitchcock look warm and off-the-cuff. I quite like his style but it’s clearly off-putting to many.

                  I actually liked Nocturnal Animals but it didn’t quite pull together the way it needed to. It felt to me like he got carried away with depicting his distaste for the LA glitterati and neglected the connective elements.

                  The movie would make a good double feature with The Neon Demon – both arty, cold visions of LA and the art scene – but I felt Refn managed to pull his film together more by the last act.

                  • cinefan35

                    “I actually like A Single Man a great deal(never read the novel) but Tom Ford’s vision as a director is ICE COLD and RIGID. He makes Hitchcock look warm and off-the-cuff. I quite like his style but it’s clearly off-putting to many.”

                    That’s the thing. This is actually what I loved and admired about Animals (its chilliness and coldness and Tom Ford’s attitude of “you as the audience can either take these characters or leave them and it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other”). I also like that Ford only provided very minimal background information about the characters’ lives and backgrounds and left it up to the audience to piece together little-by-little why Adams’ character was so emotionally disturbed and upset by the content of her ex’s novel.

              • Reverent and free

                That’s a good summary. It’s not overly complicated: an artiste revenge fantasy. Every starving male writer’s wish fulfillment getting back at the girl in college who got away.

                I expected a pretentious eye candy thriller, and that’s pretty much what it was And the Novel scenes were worth it for Shannon, who’s fast becoming one of the most compelling screen actors of his generation. Sort of like a young Tommy Lee Jones.

      • Reverent and free

        It was a trip to see Gyllenhaal in the flashback scenes. He could still pass as his Love & Other Drugs version of himself.

  • Patrick Murtha

    Crazy, Stupid, Love. also seemed to endorse stalkerish behavior (not to mention hanging out at bars where you might pick up your daughter’s friends). “Soulmate” bullshit is used to justify a lot of questionable behavior.

    • Jeff

      As a quirky guy, I have tried rom com behavior in various dating scenarios. It is almost always a fucking terrible idea. The more effort, the weirder it gets.

      • I was at a party when a friend wanted to tell a woman that he wanted to sleep with her — because it worked in “Tootsie”. I advised him that I wouldn’t do it, but he could do whatever he wanted — he was an adult, and was probably going to do it anyway. He did it, of course, then blamed me when she told him to get lost.

      • “Hello officer? I think that guy from Taxi Driver is stalking me. He’s standing outside my window blasting Peter Gabriel songs at me. Please hurry.”

      • chris land

        It is always a fucking terrible idea. I really think people need to be clearer on the fact that romance in fiction/movies is actually very close to science fiction. Any connection to reality is tenuous and purely accidental.

  • Jeff

    This sounds insane to me. Of course I would wake someone up. Whatever malfunction woke me up might eventually wake someone else up. Either way this is ridiculous.

    • WHAT?

      • Jeff

        If the premise is: I signed up for a 90 yr sleep to get to a destination and something malfunctioned and my pod and my pod alone shit the bed.

        I would give it time, as I understand Pratt does though it’s not well depicted, and then I’d probably wake someone else up. 1) Two brains are better than one for problem solving and maybe together we solve the problem and can both go back to sleep. 2) I didn’t cause the malfunction and didn’t commit to self sacrifice. It’s not as if I signed up for a suicide mission in a world war or decided sacrificing my life would save the rest of the people on the ship. 3) I think the majority of people would absolutely wake someone else up, at least eventually.

        Erhlich said something in the Fighting in the Warroom pod this week. Basically it boiled down to story notes and he said the movie would have been better served if Pratt died and Lawrence then realized herself that she needed to wake someone up too to avoid a lifetime alone.

        If you don’t believe in an afterlife and that you only get one run on this planet, I would take hope every time over a slow lonely death. Technically he is not damning Lawrence to death but just a life on the ship and that’s only if they can’t problem solve another solution.

        • That idea of Ehrlich’s is pretty good. Thumbs up.

        • Or even if he doesn’t die, she decides she needs to wake someone else up to have an affair with when Pratt starts wearing thin on her.

          • La Tarasque

            never leave HE’s comment section.

            • It looks like the “Will you” got cut off of the beginning of your post.

              • La Tarasque

                No, it was “Please” that got cut off.

          • Even better!

        • John Cope

          If he’s capable of figuring out via computer research that she’s someone he’s interested in enough to wake up, then why doesn’t he find some chief tech or engineer instead who can put them both back into hibernation? Is that inconceivable? Also, this movie would work if pitched as a tragedy or at least one with a pronounced tragic element.

  • THX11384EB

    If you want to keep a twist/big secret, don’t mention it in the media announcement of your project before shooting begins.

  • Rick Blaine

    What astonished me most after I read Spaihts’ almost decade-old screenplay, apart from the morally reprehensible twist (which, by the way, he tries to justify/negate by shoehorning in a second twist of sorts in the perfunctory action finale) was that a coterie of presumably knowledgeable industry insiders, in their infinite wisdom, had the temerity to include this emetic dreck in the Black List. Lawrence got 20 mil. for this??

    • In Spaihts’ defense and the ethical elephant aside, the script “reads” well — it has a completely pro-level conciseness, that well-honed, cut-to-the-chase quality.

  • Charles Peligro

    If I was alone on a spaceship I’d wake up Jennifer Lawrence as well.