Why PASSENGERS Is Not The Misogynistic Fantasy It Is Accused Of Being
Passengers, upon release, was panned as a misogynistic fantasy; but here's why it might actually be more progressive than that initial take.
Last year, I went and saw the 2016 sci-fi romance Passengers (our original review), starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. As soon as the movie was over, I found myself hating it due to moral issues with the film’s plotline, and I found it to be a creepy misogynistic fantasy. But after thinking about it for months since I saw it, I might’ve come to the realization that it isn’t as much of a misogynistic fantasy as I thought it was.
The Morally Complicated Plot
Passengers deals with a spaceship carrying about 5,000 passengers on a 120 year journey to a distant planet. But two of them, Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), wake up 90 years too soon from their sleep chambers and are left stranded on the ship. Now, the trailers made it seem like both woke up accidentally but what they hid is that it is Jim who woke up by accident and is stranded on the ship by himself before he wakes up Aurora, dooming her to die with him. Leading up until the moment where he makes the decision to wake her up, he is conflicted over whether or not to go through with it.
Not only that, but when Aurora does eventually realize the truth, she reacts angrily. She distances herself from him, and at one point she even tries to kill him in his sleep. If Passengers really was misogynistic, then it would have had Aurora be forgiving once she realizes the truth and accept her doomed fate. If that had been the case, then it would’ve prevented the moral ambiguity of the story from taking place. As flawed as Passengers may be, it might still inspire people to have a conversation about it, asking each other what they’d do if they were in Jim’s situation.
A Real Misogynistic Fantasy
Just for comparison, Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film The Hateful Eight is much more of a misogynistic fantasy than Passengers is. The sole main female character of the film, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), spends most of the film in the background. But whenever she is taken out of the background, she is brought out only to get beaten up, have blood or soup splattered over her, get called a bitch, and at the very end gets hanged. Not only that but the men that abuse her get an enjoyment out of it.
Even if the character of Aurora Lane wasn’t the most well-realized character, at least she was written with a bit more dignity, and was a character elevated by Jennifer Lawrence’s fine acting. She doesn’t have much agency but she still isn’t relegated to the background most of the time that she’s on screen. Also, when Aurora realizes Jim woke her up, he feels remorse over it and tells her how he tried not to do it. If Jim didn’t feel any remorse and/or Aurora was ultimately forgiving of him, then Passengers would’ve been as hateful as The Hateful Eight.
How It Could Get Better
Aside from the controversial storyline, another big flaw with Passengers is that during the third act, it becomes an out of left field actioner which didn’t work compared to the character study that the film’s first two-thirds were. I think if the entire film was a character study and was done on a much smaller scale, it could’ve been more consistent and there would’ve been more focus on substance rather than spectacle, which is something this film really didn’t need.
They didn’t necessarily need to change the storyline of Jim waking up Aurora. They just needed to delve into the ramifications of Jim’s decision more. One way in which they could’ve done that is if they made the three acts into three different movies: The first act is Jim being woken up before he eventually wakes Aurora, the second act is the two of them living together before Aurora figures out the truth and then kills Jim, and the third act is Aurora living on her own the way Jim did before she wakes another person up, setting off a possible chain reaction.
So in spite of its controversial storyline, Passengers still isn’t as misogynistic as it was said to be upon release. It is flawed and its sole female character is poorly written. But the film isn’t necessarily as hateful towards her as other films are towards theirs. Also, it might still have viewers engaging in a conversation about Jim’s decision, asking each other questions like “What would happen if that were you?” or “What would I do?”
How do you feel about Passengers? Do you agree or disagree with the claims that it is misogynistic?
Passengers is currently available on DVD and streaming.
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