Yesterday I willingly yielded an hour of my life to watch everything I dreaded about the film Passengers come true; I wished desperately for these tropes and clichés to be put back to sleep in pods, and lie dormant for another 90 years. But alas, just like the perfect white people in the film, these tired narratives were doomed to live once again on the screen.
Thankfully, it at least proved a lens through which to tropes about male entitlement, hero narratives, feminine objectification, and the heterosexual nuclear family unit. Passengers is a story about a white man taking a woman’s future and bodily autonomy away because she’s pretty, and subsequently gaslighting her by traumatic circumstance into completely and unequivocally forgiving him and rewarding him for his violations.
Even though the movie allows her to get some shots in on him, her pain specifically gives him the opportunity to risk his life and act heroically. It’s disgusting: guilt-ridden lovesick Chris Pratt dramatically tells JLaw that he has to die in order to save the ship, thus presenting her with the possibility of ultimate hell – being non-consensually been woken up from hibernation only to have to spend the next 80 years in solitary confinement, waiting for death to alleviate her agony, never to hear another person’s voice or be touched by a living being again.
Through this device, JLaw is forced to consider living with him a viable alternative to going back to sleep. Their subsequent rekindled romance, and her rejection of his offer to put her back to sleep, amount to nothing less than Stockholm Syndrome. This, coupled with her repeated refrain of “took you long enough to ask”, form a sinister message: women are just waiting for you to ask! Just because she’s in cryogenic hibernation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the plunge!
And it’s extremely salient that JLaw and Chris P are both white – they get to be “everman” and his beautiful prize, free from foolish concerns like the rendition of human difference. Chris Pratt becomes generalized masculine desire, and Jennifer Lawrence becomes the abstract “female” object of his consumption and gaze.
If you make Chris Pratt’s burly mechanic into a woman, change approximately 2 lines, and tell the actress to not repeatedly stand in front of her costar or make self-centred heroic faces into the distance to emphasize her moral virtue, the story becomes about actual people. Exploring the relationship between two women (or two men, or people of colour, or literally anything other than tropes personified) who come to love one another under conditions of extreme stress and loneliness, and of their brave forgiveness following deep betrayal, would be a story about actual people. Passengers certainly wasn’t.
If anything, Passengers highlights something very important about heterosexuality – that it takes an incredible amount of narrative contortion to make possible a relationship predicated on fantasies about objectification, gaslighting, and coercion. PUAs take note.
And the film only uses Laurence Fishburne as scaffolding to patch up the monstrous relationship between the two white characters. If that’s not criminal, I don’t know what is.