Let’s Make ‘Passengers’ Less Offensive

By  · Published on March 20th, 2017

We look at a few ways the Jennifer Lawrence/Chris Pratt space thriller could be less… well, rapey.

I’ve read a lot about Passengers since I stepped out of the theater. In it, there’s a plot point that, depending on whose critique you’re privy to, is either a well told ethical dilemma, or a rapey, agency stealing pile of garbage. With it now on Blu-ray and on-demand, it’s a discussion worth revisiting.

I tend to align with the latter. I do so because it is a rapey pile of garbage – Chris Pratt’s character wakes the woman he’s been stalking from hibernation so she can die – with him – on a spaceship. There’s almost no point arguing ethics, because the story itself barely does. The movie that surrounds that pivotal, and for some reason vital, plot device is a love story – a story of survival. And by the end, well, it’s OK that Pratt’s character woke her up because they like each other! Good thing that guy knew what was best, huh?

It’s disappointing that, minus the forced awakening bit that many, many others have found just as troubling, this is an interesting (albeit not overly original) film. Below are 5 ways this movie could’ve been pulled off without a lonely man lying to a woman and removing her right to choose her destiny.

1. Jennifer Lawrence wakes up on her own.

Why not? Pratt did. Larry did. She wakes up to find a man losing his sanity, trapped alone.

2. The second person is awoken for practical reasons.

Pratt’s pod fails just the the film depicts. Because he can see everyone’s professions on their pod readouts, he chooses to wake an engineer/scientist/doctor because he is terrified and is hoping someone can help him.

The two leads can be swapped here, and there can still be an ethical dilemma, but it’s not predicated on some light stalking and a year of loneliness. The ship is hurtling towards destruction, and the lone passenger must find someone to wake to help them save the other 5,000 people on board. That makes sense.

3. Maybe they knew each other before they went into hibernation.

Maybe they were married. That could be an interesting “ethical dilemma” (I’m overusing this because I’ve seen it as the excuse for the story’s turn). The husband (or wife) assumes the other person would want to be awake to live out their life with their partner. There’s potential for strife and discussion about the danger of assumed marital ownership.

4. Lean into the horror of it all.

This film has the desire to shoehorn a terrifying scenario into a love story. Why not just lean into the horror of it all?

Pratt’s character simply isn’t a good guy, or, he makes questionable decisions because of the stress of his situation.He pulls an innocent woman out of stasis, but instead of being treated like a romantic lead that made a mistake, the film portrays him as a monster. Think the Wahlberg/Witherspoon romp Fear, but in space. Lawrence is charmed by this handsome stranger, but slowly finds out he did a terrible thing to her, and she must kill or be killed!

As long as she has some agency.

The film bats Lawrence’s character around like a kitten with a ball of yarn. She has no say in anything that happens to her, and that’s troubling. Passengers embraces subservience and chooses to make its only female character ignorant – set dressing. Sci-fi has long been celebrated as a genre rife with strong female characters, but this film is too busy being a saccharine love story to give its heroine anything to do.

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