Wednesday, December 28, 2016

“Passengers,” A Review

     There isn’t much the “critics” can say that will deter the C.S.O. or me from enjoying some bit of entertainment. In the usual case, what they despise, we enjoy. Many books, music, and movies the critics have condemned to the ninth circle of Hell are among our favorites.

     When it comes to the movies, part of that divergence arises from what aspects of the story are most important to us, versus what parts matter most to the critics. For example, I value the emotional weight of the story line above all other things, at least if it’s delivered elegantly rather than crudely. Many a critic has little or no soul – perhaps they get too good a price for them on eBay – and is more impressed by surprise, or innovative cinematography, or political correctness, or what-have-you.

     The C.S.O. and I saw Passengers this morning, and were greatly impressed. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to read that in many ways it’s a “small” movie. It has a cast of only four persons, a sharply constrained setting, and a fairly simple plot line. Despite the interstellar-travel motif, parts of it were probably shot in a cafeteria, other parts in a very upscale hotel – with the appropriate CGI overlays, of course.

     But Passengers isn’t really a space opera. Indeed, it’s about as non-SF an SF-style movie as one could imagine. What it is, mostly, is a love story.

     The promo trailer has been widely distributed and viewed, so the typical Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch surely knows the broad outline of the story: Two interstellar colonists, engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awaken from suspended animation only a quarter of the way through a 120-year journey toward their intended new home planet, and discover that they can’t “go back to sleep.” They bond emotionally, becoming lovers – what alternatives are there, really? – and appear to be settling into the constrained future before them. Then things start to go wrong. Heroism is required.

     But that taste of the plot of Passengers tells you nothing of importance about the movie. It highlights a painful moral-emotional dilemma. It depicts the fury of a woman who learns, to her complete surprise, that she’s been “used.” And it delineates the great divide between genuine heroism and the tin-plated counterfeit the media so often try to foist upon us.

     The script is outstanding. Pratt and Lawrence give perfect performances. The setting is alternately as luxurious, as stark, and as terrifying as anyone could imagine. The resolution gives new power and freshness to the words heartwarming and love.

     For the politically obsessed: Yes, Jennifer Lawrence has said some supremely stupid and bigoted things. Give her a break; she’s a twenty-six-year-old actress with no experience of real life worth mentioning. You don’t need to endorse her idiocies to be entertained by her acting talent, which is enormous. Remember the old saw: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” Appreciate the magnitude of her talent and the extraordinary presence she brings to the silver screen. Appreciate also the equally fine performance of costar Chris Pratt, in a more emotionally demanding role than I would have cast him for.

     Highly recommended.