Passengers is a Great Red Pill Flick
Spoilers: most of the plot is discussed.
I often worry that I am far too intellectually informed by what I have recently consumed. In the current case I have been listening to a lot of Jordan B Peterson. Hence, my reading of Passengers is something I would hope he would also see.
Here’s the thing. Once you are opened up to a truth you begin to see it everywhere. Jordan would probably take issue with this, as it is a key problem with ideological thinking. SJWs tend to see the world through a very specific lens, as does everyone with a particularly stringent political inclination. You can’t let yourself be constrained by a narrow way of thinking. So I reconcile this expanding my mind and allowing myself to finally see reality.
This is where Passengers comes in. Abigail Nussbaum represents everything wrong with SJWs in SFF (even if I agree with her assertion regarding Westworld being a show about itself). Overly analytical and one-sided. Massive tweetstorms about l’issue du jour. Her take on Passengers is one driven purely by ideology, one that barely judges the film for what it is, but rather for what it could be and what outside influences affect it or that it affects. The premise of the movie is that Chris Pratt’s character (Jim) accidentally wakes from his cryosleep and after about 1 year and 3 months he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence’s character (Aurora), but tells her it was also a malfunction (not a spoiler since it happens fairly early on). The mere fact that it is a man going after a woman, rather than a gay romance or having the gender roles reversed, is enough for Abigail to class Jim as a murdering, rapey asshole. Both these alternatives are ideological fantasies, and the assertion is simply false. I’m not going to pretend that Passengers is an amazing film (Arrival is the sci fi pick of the moment) but it is a deeply radical story, and that is because it’s a biblical story.
Apparently we need new stories for a new age. That is why people like Abigail insist on new narratives that up-end archetypes. However, there is a reason these are archetypes, and that is that these stories are recognisable to 99.99% of humans (that is, before you get snarky, 99.99% of humans that have ever lived). Man has existential crisis. Woman saves man from nihilist void. Man does not admit truth, breaks woman’s heart. Differences are eventually reconciled with re-birthing of man. Characters live happily ever after in a garden of Eden. That is not the story that Abigail — and many reviewers — saw. By the very fact that two different ideologies present two different stories, that tells you that it is not a clear-cut case. One group wants stories that break the mould; one group wants stories that tell the truth. But both want stories that confirm their beliefs.
Let’s look at Jim’s character. Apparently the plot is ‘rapey’ because Jim’s character is a massive creep who forces Aurora to become his lover. This is false. First, the plot acknowledges that the act of waking someone up just so that you can have a companion is despicable. Jim agonises over it. A lot of time is spent on the rage that Aurora rightly has (in particular, the scene where she wakes him by beating him and the scene where he tries talking to her over the speaker but she yells at him were both well nuanced). Another character later on is disgusted by it. Even the android knows it is wrong. But as Jordan Peterson says, you have to put yourselves in their shoes. Most people would have been Nazis if they were German in the 1930s. Most people would be tempted to wake someone up if they were caught alone on a spaceship and were doomed to die, especially if you almost killed yourself and were saved by a beautiful woman. Yes it’s wrong, but do not be so quick to judge. In addition, exceptions do not break rules. One asshole act does not make you an asshole. Nothing else Jim does is the act of an asshole. Indeed, calling Jim a murdery rapist devalues the actual evil of murderers and rapists. He’s a good character who makes a terrible choice. Sounds like a good point of conflict for a solid plot, no?
But like I said, these SJW critics only criticise ideology and external factors, never the actual aesthetics of media. A story like this would never work if it were a man waking up another man, not if the roles were switched. First, only a handful of people want to see an abnormal romance such as two men engaging in zero-g intercourse. And if it were a ‘bromance’ well, a lot of tension would be lost. Second, I find it highly unlikely that a female would be that enamoured with a man to wake him. I think if that happened it would be a totally different movie, and much more likely to be go towards psych-thriller territory.
Let’s face it, romance is inherit in human understanding and history. A man trying to win over a woman is a quintessential set-up, and can be endlessly re-engineered. Think When Harry Met Sally as a classic with a good ‘twist’. Here, we have the story transplanted to a spaceship, with a crucial and quite novel plot development. Usually a man does hurt a woman in someway, and then he has to win her back. In this movie, he basically kills her. But not quite. It’s… complicated. Wow! What a twist! The story works, and Passengers handles it with grace.
All this talk makes it sound quite run-of-the-mill. Wrong again. Sure, it’s a pretty straightforward romance, but from a sci fi angle it’s unique. Think about it. Most science fiction in film is grim, even nihilistic. Event Horizon, Sunshine, Infini and Alien are all horror-thrillers set in space. Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Avatar and Star Wars are war movies where the cosmos is the battlefield. These movies indulge our darkest recesses. But Passengers is a mostly wholesome romance, something you don’t see often in this aesthetic genre. The special effects are mesmerising, especially the space walk and the slingshot around the sun (makes me think a TV mini-series based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora would be superb). I found the characters had chemistry, and Jennifer Lawrence once again proves she has immense talent (overall I think she outshines Chris Pratt). Laurence Fishburne was a bit flat, but Michael Sheen was fantastic as the android bartender.The editing was also great. I’ve been lamenting some terrible editing recently, but Passengers kept the whole thing moving smoothly. If anything this is one of the best original sci fi screenplays in recent history.
Some of you may be wondering how any of this makes it a great red pill movie. I’ve already been over it a bit, but let’s go deeper. Jim wakes up early and has to resign himself to dying before they reach their destination, a new world where he plans to help the colony with his engineering skills. Unfortunately, the realisation that he will die pushes him to indulge in sin, playing games, eating luxuriously and drinking to excess. This culminates in an attempted suicide, something all too common for young men without hope. But, miraculously, a beautiful woman saves him. It’s a sign. He learns her history — she’s a journalist and writer — and he falls in love. He makes the very painful decision to wake her up (the android barman, Arthur, acts as his conscience) and decides to lie by omission. He never makes any overt advances until a good deal of time has passed, and he begins to woo her with expensive dinners, personalised gifts and handpicked flowers. I mean, if you’re the last two people on earth, you’re probably going to fall in love with each other, right? Finally he takes her on a space walk — his previous space walk had resulted in him contemplating death — and this pushes her towards him (see the symmetry). They enjoy each other for almost a year, falling deeply in love and become resigned to their fate. All sounds rosy so far.
During this time Aurora shows herself to be a typically modern woman. She’s a liberal arts student (journalist/writer) from a famous and rich background. She is skeptical of the company, Homestead, which organises these colonising missions, saying that they are only there to make a buck. Jim disagrees: he sees this capitalism as an opportunity to reach for the stars. She only plans to visit the colony for a year before returning to the future; he wants to start a new life and help humanity. In this time he also encourages her to write, something which she had been struggling with (wow, he sure sounds like a murderous, asshole rapist). Disaster strikes: as Jim prepares to propose, Arthur reveals the truth to Aurora. Arthur is actually the most fascinating character, as the whole time Aurora and Jim say things like ‘you wouldn’t understand, you’re not human’. Au contraire, mes amis. Arthur is more than human. His revelation is the crux of the movie: the nature of truth. Only by telling the truth can we find true meaning. Only be throwing away the danger of lies can we truly live. We lie to ourselves, and we lie to others, and all it brings is suffering.
So now we come to the final act. A crew member wakes up, but quickly dies. He judges Jim, but cannot reconcile Aurora. Essentially, she has to deal with it now. But the crew member discovers that something is wrong with the ship. The race is on to mend the dying vessel, and Jim and Aurora must help each other. The problem reveals itself: a tiny meteor has penetrated to the very core, disturbing the reactor and setting off a cascading failure. Sounds like a metaphor? It is. This tiny meteor (a lie) damages the core (the heart) and sets off a never-ending chain of events. The core problem must be fixed so the ship can be restored (people can love each other again). It’s endlessly elegant. Both Aurora and Jim work together to fix the problem and they do, but Jim sacrifices himself in the process (as he dies he says, ‘I would have built a home for you.’ *sob*). At one point Aurora implores Jim to not kill himself for her. Jim stoically reminds her that there are 5000 other living souls on the ship. He has no choice. Honestly, I teared up a bit at this point. In the end, he is reborn (man as Christ) with the help of Aurora, who realised that she can’t live without him. That year together was true love. In the denouement, Jim tells Aurora in a final act of recompense that he has now found a way for her to go back to sleep.
She refuses. Together they create a literal garden of Eden for the other passengers to discover when they wake up. It’s beautiful. A true story of love and sacrifice. There are plenty of juicy metaphors too — ‘passengers on this thing called life’ for one. If you are looking for healthy entertainment, Passengers delivers.
Unfortunately I don’t think it will be that financially successful. You need to be an animated children’s film or a massive superhero franchise to do well these days. Talking about money though, Abigail compares the movie to the Ghostbusters drama. She implores that real women have turned away from Passengers because it is ‘rapey’, whereas men turning away from Ghostbusters was all hype.
Let’s do the math:
Ghostbusters Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $128,350,574 56.0%
+ Foreign: $100,796,935 44.0%
= Worldwide: $229,147,509
Movie Budget + Marketing: 288,000,000
Opening Weekend: $46,018,755
(#2 rank, 3,963 theaters, $11,612 average)
% of Total Gross: 35.9%
Widest Release: 3,963 theaters
Close Date: November 10, 2016
In Release: 119 days / 17 weeks
Earnings compared to Spending
229,147,509/288,000,000 = 79.56%
Passengers Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $94,533,188 35.1%
+ Foreign: $175,100,000 64.9%
= Worldwide: $269,633,188
Movie Budget + Marketing: 220,000,000
Opening Weekend: $14,869,736
(#3 rank, 3,478 theaters, $4,275 average)
% of Total Gross: 15.7%
Widest Release: 3,478 theaters
In Release: 33 days / 4.7 weeks
Earnings compared to Spending
269,633,188/220,000,000 = 122.50%
So really Passengers didn’t perform badly. And given Ghostbusters had franchise power behind it, and massive marketing, it doesn’t paint a great picture. I think people really did turn away from Ghostbusters, and I really do think people don’t turn out for original screenplays in large enough numbers. Painting Passengers in a falsely negative light does it a great disservice, especially since it should be commended. The Rotten Tomato score is 30%, but the safe assumption is that the negativity is from SJW ideology. The IMDB score is just over 7/10, not amazing, but also not the 5/10 that Ghostbusters has. Don’t you just hate it when facts and figures jar with your ideological beliefs?
The majority of stories all speak to the heart of humanity. As painful as it is, most people are heterosexual. Most people like a story about ‘meaning’, ‘truth’ and finding fulfillment in one’s life. You might think it’s bland, but that’s just those ideology-tinted glasses doing all the work for you. Stories repeat, and the resonate.
I said that this is a ‘red pill’ movie, but it’s much more traditionalist than that. This is Neoreaction in all its glory: traditional values, a Christian narrative AND it’s set in a hyper-capitalistic future. What more could you want? At first I worried that I was blinded by what I wanted to see, but as I have shown this movie truly does cover exactly the same ground as what Jordan Peterson talks about. It proves his points. These stories are all-encompassing, almost hereditary. In other words, natural.