There is something deeply, damagingly conventional about Passengers, an obvious fact before the opening credits are even finished. But once this is recognized, there is no reason Passengers cannot be enjoyed in the same way that an episode of ABC's Lost might be. That is, as a small but entertaining exercise in twisty sci-fi indulgence.
Indeed, the similarities between Passengers and Lost are immense. Both are about mysterious plane crashes, the troubled post-crash lives of a small band of survivors, and some unexplained supernatural creepiness. Both have romance, violence, dead parent apparitions, and characters named Claire. In the end, though, Passengers is much simpler than any given episode of Lost, even if less stylishly rendered.
Passengers, directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her), does not take place on a tropical island, but rather a dreary looking area of British Columbia. The film begins, predictably enough, with a plane crash, with a handful of survivors walking around dazed and bloodied amidst carnage and fire.
We then jump forward to subsequent weeks, after the survivors have returned to their normal lives, as therapist Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway) attempts to reach out and help these people cope with the trauma of being the sole survivors. Of course, the therapy does not go as planned. Passengers begin to go missing, new survivors come out of the woodwork, suspicious airline officials begin following Claire around, and one passenger seems all too gleeful about the whole experience. He is Eric (Patrick Wilson), a charming, handsome broker who lives in a cool bohemian loft where he has taken up abstract painting (apparently his way of dealing with the crash).
Eric refuses to go to group therapy sessions, but Claire—nice therapist that she is—agrees to meet with him one on one at his home. He proceeds to aggressively flirt with her while insisting that he not be "her patient," which (of course) paves the way for their inevitable sexual relationship. Lest the movie get lost in "Kate/Jack/Sawyer" soap opera gushiness, Passengers makes certain to keep up the mysteries, twists, and supernatural intrigue all the while.
Unsurprisingly, the film ends with a big twist, though it's not one of those "gotcha!" endings that is supposed to take us off guard and blow our minds. No, it's more like a twist that we probably see coming but which elevates the film and gives it a needed unifying logic. It's a twist that is more about emotional and thematic closure rather than shock value. In M. Night Shyamalan terms, it's more of a Village rather than Sixth Sense ending.
But this film's chief asset is not its ending. Its two leads—and their surprising and tender chemistry—are the best thing about this movie, and one of the main reasons it's watchable. Though the script by first-timer Ronnie Christensen is pretty clunky and amateurish (there is way too much talking that has no corresponding action), Hathaway and Wilson do their best with it. Hathaway—fresh off a career-defining performance in Rachel Getting Married—fits fine in the role of the confused, wide-eyed heroine, and Wilson is his typical charismatic self as the mysterious and endearing Eric. It's easy to see why their characters forge a bond and fall in love, and the scenes that show their relationship developing are the best in the film.
Indeed, it might have been better had Passengers stuck closer to the romance and left out some of the trippy supernatural bits. At times it seems like a film without a genre home, but then again, this is also the feeling one gets when watching Lost, and on that show it works. No, the real problem with Passengers is that it all just feels a bit ho-hum. The Claire/Eric relationship is nice enough, and at times there is a suitably ethereal—almost elegant—mood lent the film by its cinematography and understated music (Ed Shearmur). Credit should be given to Garcia for turning a sub-par script into a film that is a least somewhat aesthetically interesting, though from the director of something like Nine Lives—which is one of my favorite films of the last five years—I definitely expected greater things.
It's a wonder that such a marquee arthouse director, teamed with a stellar, largely arthouse cast, resulted in a film that is so unspectacular. But it's certainly not a catastrophe of a film, which makes it all the more puzzling that Passengers has been all but abandoned by its studio. There was zero publicity for it (have you ever even heard of it?), no critics' screenings, and apparently no expectation or hope for it to recoup its budget ($25 million). It's not a horrible film, and certainly could have made some money had it gotten even a tad of publicity, so it really is a mystery why it has been "dumped," as they say in the industry.
Perhaps the Lost similarity really was its undoing. Though the script was written before the days of Lost (I saw the script in 2004 when I worked for Focus Features), it unfortunately contains a plot that plays out in a way that many people assume Lost will. Indeed, maybe Passengers is so close to Lost's end game that ABC lobbied Sony to put the kibosh on it, to keep viewers from getting any spoiler ideas. Alas, this is just the sort of conspiracy theory avid fans of that show love to make up.
Whatever the reason for Passengers' lackluster entrance onto the national film stage, it probably need not be speculated about. The fact is, Passengers is a film neither good nor bad enough to be especially memorable. It is the type of film you might enjoy as an HBO stumble-upon on a Sunday afternoon, but if you never happen upon it, don't worry. You won't miss it.Discussion starters
- What do you think of the twist at the end? What does it reveal about the characters and how they interacted up till that point?
- Compare this film to The Sixth Sense, The Others, and/or Lost. What are these films/shows trying to reveal about humanity? About the supernatural?
- What do you think happens after the end of the film for Claire and Eric?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Passengers is rated PG-13 for some language and scary scenes, most notably a violent plane crash scene. There is one scene of sexuality, but no nudity. Themes deal with the supernatural; it's certainly not a movie for young children.
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