Passengers is a dystopian romance set on a spaceship. But the closer we looked at the story, the more we realized the story sounded pretty familiar. And pretty sexist. Let’s take a closer look.
Passengers is set in the future, where a new world called Homestead 2 is ready to be populated. A massive luxury spaceship called the Avalon containing 5,000 guests and crew, is en route to the new planet. Because the journey takes 120 years, everyone, even the captain of the ship, is put into a state of suspended animation for all but the last few months of the trip.
Sounds like a pretty good plan until an asteroid hits the ship and begins to cause a series of mechanical problems. The first malfunction happens to Jim Preston’s (Chris Pratt) sleeping pod. The computer wakes him up a full 90 years before the ship is set to reach Homestead 2.
Jim, a mechanic, tries desperately to figure out a way to go back into hibernation, but it’s no use. His fate is to spend the rest of his life alone on the ship, in transit, and the coffee is really bad. His only companion is a robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen).
After a year of feeling sorry for himself and a near suicide attempt, lonely Jim hatches a plan to do the unthinkable: wake up another passenger so he can have a companion.
We think this setup sounds eerily like the book of Genesis. Just like Jim on the Avalon (the Welsh word for “apple tree island”), Adam is also lonely in the Garden of Eden. God decides Adam shouldn’t be alone and creates a mate for him. To make Adam happy.
While Jim knows it’s wrong to wake the sleeping beauty and doom her to a life aboard a spaceship, it would make Jim happy. He wrestles with the idea for awhile, but ultimately, his loneliness and libido win out. After bingeing all her stored video recordings, he picks a beautiful woman named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) as his “mate.”
Once Jim hacks Aurora’s pod, she wakes up and is as shocked and saddened as Jim was when she learns she’ll live out all her days on the spaceship. Not knowing Jim was responsible, she turns to him for comfort, companionship and love.
Finally, Jim is happy. He and Aurora’s “honeymoon” period is filled with playing a Dance Dance Revolution-like video game, romantic dinners served by androids, and of course, sex. Both go about making the best of their situation until Aurora uncovers the shocking truth: It wasn’t a pod malfunction that woke her up; it was Jim.
Outraged, she calls Jim a “murderer” and ceases speaking to him. He tries to explain, apologize, do anything to make it up to her, but he knows she has every right to be angry. Who wouldn’t be? It’s not until the ship begins to break apart as a result of the initial asteroid strike that Jim and Aurora — very predictably — come back together.
The problem with this romance is that is all about Jim’s desires. Jim manipulates Aurora’s body and fate for his own selfish pleasure, taking away her sovereignty. Like Eve, she was never given a choice. A man’s needs are again put before a woman’s. Jim does experience consequences for his actions, but they are nothing compared to Aurora’s misery — a misery that could have been avoided.
I don’t think either the male writer or male director of this movie are even aware of the misogyny in this story. Why should they be? They’ve grown up in a world where men’s needs are almost always put first. They’ve grown up watching movies primarily about men, made primarily by men.
The reason I point all this out is because in the year 2016, some men are still trying to control women’s bodies. They want to legislate our wombs by creating laws limiting women’s reproductive rights. There’s also rape culture in which some men think it’s OK to sexually assault a woman when she’s passed out. Other men seem to think it’s OK not to adequately punish men for these types of crimes.
As modern women, we need to be vigilant about keeping control of our own bodies. We need to pay attention to the stories that are being told. This is why female filmmakers are up in arms over the sexism in Hollywood. With more female writers and directors, hopefully our modern day mythology will include less misogyny.
As for Passengers, it’s just a centuries-old male-centric story propagating the myth that women only exist for the pleasure of men. And both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence fell for it.