What could be a bigger science fiction than the notion that one human would agree to devote the entirety of their natural life to another human? At least, that’s the viewpoint of the earnest but dopey Passengers, which, to the chagrin of genre buffs everywhere, sets up an epic jaunt between habitable planets and, instead of showing how 5,000 people set about colonizing a new world, focuses on the courtship of two people who were awakened from suspended animation nearly a century ahead of schedule.
Engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is jolted awake aboard the Starship Avalon after a meteor shower besieges the population-transporting vessel, kinking up the ship’s computer functions. After unsuccessfully trying to program his pod back into hibernation mode, he realizes that he’s going to spend the rest of his life aboard the ship alone, and die before his people reach their destination of Homeland II. Unsurprisingly finding himself bored by his own company, Jim starts to do a little research on a woman he spies in another pod and, after some deliberation, overrides her slumber. Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is a writer on Earth, but she quickly runs out of words to share with Jim. Still, a bird in the hand is worth 4,998 in the bush, so eventually sparks fly between the two of them. And then sparks start to fly from every other corner of the ship, as systems begin going down on the regular.
A respectable, generic sci-fi adventure would focus solely on that last plot point, but not this one. An unharmonious blend of two separate concerns, Passengers admittedly does maladroitly embody the exact same proposition of a romantic relationship between Jim and Aurora. They’re both laboriously set up, and neither exactly believable. Still, The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum uses the scenario to explore, in dubious faith, the viability of humankind’s most outrageous proposition. Monogamy, Passengers seems to be suggesting, is tantamount to existing in a world where nothing else matters outside of the bond you and your partner share.
Indeed, the notion of coupling and marriage can only succeed if there’s an unspoken agreement that “’til death do you part” is always reached with another thematic death: that of your singlehood, your autonomy. Only thereby is Jim’s ethically indefensible decision to pull another human into his doomed existence on the intergalactic equivalent of a desert island easily swallowed. Yes, even given the mitigating factor of Pratt’s cosmic quads and calves.