When It Comes to Facts and Truth, We’re All Just Along For the Ride

Let me start by saying, yes it is a bit strange to be going on about a slightly-better-than-average movie like Passengers. Surely there are more important topics! But Passengers and the discussion that has arisen around it does serve a useful base for a deeper discussion, something that was brought to my attention that seems to divide Left and Right: the nature of fact and truth.

Because there is a difference, albeit slight. Facts are things like ‘Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes’. The truth is that Donald Trump is President. Facts can be twisted to produce a truth, but enough facts show the truth. Facts rarely change, while the truth can evolve. A fact is one thing only, but the truth can be many things: the opposite of a lie, an internal sense of meaning, a theory like gravity. Truth is far more nebulous, and that is why it is both dangerous and liberating. True truth is the absence of lies and the conglomeration of facts.

I found this great quote to illustrate my point:

Facts are notes and lyrics on sheet music. Truth is what the singer gives to the listener when she’s brave enough to open up and sing from her heart.

My review of Passengers shows that it is a story about revealing truths. Specifically, mending lies. Lies are problems that hurt us at our core, and can have cascading effects on our lives. This reading of the movie is close to the truth. But of course, Mel Campbell doesn’t think so.

I can’t tell if she has read my review and is referring to the theme of the movie, or my use of the word truth in my tweet (I think the latter). Either way, she immediately stumbles over herself.

First, it’s more often the Left who deploy emotional truths. That picture of a drowned child on the beach carries more weight than the realities of a massive refugee influx. In fact, since I quit hanging around in Leftist circles, I’ve never seen such use of statistics, studies, quotes, sources and more. Leftists on Twitter just tend to ‘YASS QUEEN’ everyone else’s opinion pieces. The Alt Right pride themselves on discovering the truth by looking at the facts.

The article she links to doesn’t back her up at all. It starts by detailing the rise of statistics, how they are fallible, and the way they have been used for the nation state. It then goes on to describe Big Data and how its future is uncertain in how it will used. Of course, we all know that statistics like GDP are faulty, and that if you dig deeper you find that the Australian economy is propped up by massive immigration, so much that the equivalent of a new Melbourne will have to be built in the next 10 years, and that as a result our infrastructure will not keep up (never mind the cultural repercussions). The scariness of Big Data points towards either accelerationism, or a return to high trust nation states. I know what I would prefer. The article reads like propaganda passed off as information, and is itself guilty of twisting facts to produce an emotional outcome.

But Mel finally undoes herself in that last Tweet. Now, I imagine she is not in favour of Trump, maybe even thinks he didn’t deserve to win. Well, he persuaded the American people. That’s what subjectivity gets you: democracy. You can’t espouse an adherence to facts and reject emotional truth and then turn around and say, ‘Everything is subjective, it just comes down to how you say it’. But some things are definitely closer to the truth than others.

As a film, Passengers is strong. It’s well plotted with a nice pace, has smooth editing and a logically consistent story. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent. It’s a bit paint by numbers at times, but we can forgive it that. This all rates the film for what it is and how it is made. My judgement is based on a deeper level of story, one of myth and archetypes. Writers today only focus on references and ideologies, both of which are inherently shallow.

Speaking of references, let’s count them:

  • King Arthur
  • Sleeping Beauty — Probably referenced because it isn’t hard to find a bunch of people who are upset that story is about rape.
  • Titanic — A bit of a stretch.
  • La La Land — Literally just another movie she would have watched because it came out at the same time, and so has zero bearing beyond emotions (in this case sensory memory).
  • The Shining — This is a big stretch. Thematically the movies are not very similar, beyond some superficial idea of loneliness. Plus, it’s very easy to find a picture of a bartender wearing the same uniform.
  • Alien, Elysium and Prometheus — These three were used for a small rant about the autodoc which led absolutely nowhere.
  • WALL-E — The third act merely ‘reminded’ the reviewer of the children’s movie, so again an irrelevant point to add to the word count. No deeper level analysis.

To judge a movie on its own merits can be hard, as it requires some original thought. And I do mean original, since it often feels the millennial crowd of game, book and movie ‘reviewers’ just feed off each other. Here are some I found and the ‘facts’ they discuss:

Most audiences going in off the back of the trailer would assume it’s a meet-cute movie that tilts into a lovers’ fight for survival together. As Aurora says, “You die, I die”.
Except that’s not really how it plays out.

That is exactly how it plays out, except with added nuance and depth, which the reviewer clearly missed.

This escalates into obsessively watching her introductory video, with the suggestion the journey is also a great big dating scenario to repopulate the new planet.

Not even close. Calm your emotions and try to write a balanced review.

Lawrence Fishburne shows up momentarily as a senior crew member also jolted out of his deep sleep who functions merely as a plot device to help the white folks open doors before being dispensed with swiftly.

*yawn* it’s racist too, OK, sure thing.

Further compounding that idiocy, the facility only has one super-duper do-it-all operating table, an idea Spaihts clearly recycled for Prometheus before Passengers was resuscitated.

Unlike Mel, this retard didn’t bother to look up TV Tropes.

So far, I’ve seen the failing of Passengers be explained in a number of ways: One, as an example of the problems of relying on so-called A List actors to bring in the audiences without a recognizable brand name in the title, which could have some truth. The staggering cost of the project — $150m after its original budget was set at $90m — may not have helped, but most infuriatingly, I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence’s salary — $20m, which is pretty much par for the course with major male stars — blamed for the box office numbers.

That’s some good fact manipulation.

Passengers missed its projected $50m opening week by a sizeable margin, and will probably be written off as a flop by current industry standards (films generally need to make two and a half times their budget to break even). Yet there’s been little discussion of the reasons why it will underperform, and the specific gender dynamics at play, both in terms of economics and storytelling. Clearly the reviews and the reveal of that creepy twist played a part in audiences rejecting the film, but there doesn’t seem to be much mainstream industry discussion on why those audiences said no, as noted by Abigail Nussbaum.

There is literally no evidence provided that women — specifically — deigned not to watch the movie. Not even an anecdote or two. Indeed, since that is the argument being made, you would think providing some evidence, or indeed good counter-evidence to the prevailing idea, would be necessary. But facts are for losers, and what matters is winning by insisting on an emotional truth: that women turned away in droves from Passengers because it’s rapey. Not only are no facts provided to lead to that truth, but the writer provides alternative facts to try to make a point

As long as Hollywood views the Default Viewer of its movies as a cishet white guy aged between 18 and 49, the same films and the same problems will keep coming back to our screens.

The assumption that this is what all movie marketing people sit around thinking is beyond naive. It’s wilfully ignorant. It’s propaganda.

Aurora suggests that the corporation has sold Jim a false romantic fantasy of settler life. Frustratingly, the irony that Jim is already in the grip of a romantic fantasy is never fully articulated.

Back to Mel’s review, she misses the point completely here. First, dismissing Jim’s idea as false is disingenuous. Of course a feminist would think the hard work of setting up a colony is a ludicrous male fantasy, but she even glosses over the reason why Aurora is there. The female motive is superficial: a year long stay for writing inspiration, a chance to see the future. Now, tell me again which goal is a romantic fantasy? Jim is there to teach Aurora how to be a better person. And he succeeds.

At the nadir of a yearlong descent into existential despair (signified by an extremely bushy Beard of Sorrow), too craven even to kill himself in the ship’s spacewalk airlock, Jim stumbles across a sleeping passenger, a journalist named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).

Did I mention making fun of male suicide?

But the film can’t quite nail a shift into psychological horror, or recast Jim as a sinister stalker antagonist.

So instead of appreciating an original story and a science fiction movie that doesn’t dissolve into horror Mel would prefer that her worst nightmares are proven true, that Jim is just a psychopath rather than a conflicted man who just wants to do what’s best. Again, judging something for what it is not seems dishonest.

Jim’s and Aurora’s second-act romance is shown to be as artificial and entropic as their spaceship — doomed to break down, then explode. And it tries to redeem their connection by affirming their shared, ‘natural’ humanity. The film ends on a hopeful note; but ultimately Passengers can’t stay the course of its own cascading errors.

Rather than properly analyse the ending and the subtext, she glibly passes over it, probably because she’d spent so much time mentioning other movies and how awful men are. She doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that both Jim and Aurora’s relationship and the ship are mended by getting to the heart of the matter. That is to say, finding out the truth.

And of course, in all the reviews I have read, I have not actually seen anyone discuss the fact that the marketing line ‘There is a reason they woke up’ works. There is a reason, for if Jim had not woken Aurora, the entire ship would have exploded, killing every person on board. Fate (more commonly known as coincidence) is just as good a reason as any. And often truth is more important than facts.

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