Tyldum (USA 2016) Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt.
viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle 3rd Jan 2017;
Love means never having to say you’re sorry…
Seeing two sci-fi films in the space of a couple of weeks, first one was ‘Arrival’, brings home how sci-fi movies are in general little more than a transmutation of current contemporary issues onto an imagery future. The shift in situation and imagery towards the futuristic gives ongoing political and social themes a thinly disguised aspect. This can sometimes, lend freshness to debate (rare but it happens), and/or open up the subject matter to the possibilities of satire and parody. Woody Allen, J-P Godard and Mel Brookes have all tested out this latter territory.
Villeneauve’s ‘Arrival’ establishes the familiar situation of an alien landing on Earth, but takes as its area of concern not conflict as in ‘War of the Worlds’, but rather the subject of communication. On reflection I came to think that ‘Arrival’s scenario was actually a variant on the theme: ‘Women are from Venus’. Its subject matter, in subtext of course, was actually communication between the sexes, men and women. ‘Arrival’s’ big idea was that women, such as feminists who have difficulties in speaking or communicating with men, should use white boards. Armed with a white board, you can say and then you can point. Although the white board does not rule out misunderstandings, perhaps it makes them less frequent than they would otherwise be. Seriously.
‘Passengers’ on the other hand does not take itself seriously. It is tongue in cheek spoof on the American dream of the perfect relationship between the sexes as blazed idealised and trailed by teenage magazines such as True Romance, its ilk and imitators (Disney Corp). Filled out with tropes from just about every significant sci-fi movie of the last fifty years, Tyldum absorbs and regurgitates (with effective SFX) just about everything from robots spaceships and spacescapes. As we journey on Avalon we visit: Forbidden Planet, 2001, Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Gravity possibly even Solaris and I presume other movies I’ve not seen. But the sci fi input is just a wrap, a expensively formulated wrap, often spectacular, but just a wrap to sell and to promote the film. The subject matter is simply a variant on the old story of: boy meets girl.
The first section of the film covers Jim’s accidental awakening which allows Tyldum’s scenario to create situations satirising the contemporary frustration of trying to communicate with corporate entities fronted by layers of robotic gate keepers. But although the menace of corporate strategies in controlling our lives is maintained in the script, this opening section is simply an hors d’oeuvre preparing for the subsequent determined parody that defines the action of Passengers.
Tyldrum book-ends Passengers with Sleeping Beauty motifs. In the first part of the film when Jim wakes Aurora, it seems as if Passengers might be some sort of gloss on the familiar Grimms Bros/Disney fairy tale. But rigorously rooted in contemporary mores, Passengers is committed to gender equality; the Sleeping Beauty moment is a feint but one that allows the movie to show its contemporary gender equality credentials by having a gender balanced moment at the end of the film where Aurora wakens Jim. Symmetry.
So the awakening of Aurora in Passengers does not presage a fairy tale. It is in fact a Lubitsch meet-cute situation with one of the parties, as is not usual, contained, and believing the meet-cute has been accidental not manipulated. Tyldrum uses the relationship between Jim and Aurora to satirise both the content and form of the contemporary career of the romance. Isolating his love birds on the good ship Avalon gives Tyldum the space to spoof the ‘love ideology bond’ as pitched by Disney and teenage magazines. The pitch that love conquers all (even betrayal), lovers exist only for each other to the exclusion of the world, love is forever and exists in a sort of vacuum chamber bereft of social or cultural ties.
The lonely vast spaceship Aurora is a very good filmic testing ground to have fun at the expense of these jejune ‘lurve’ propositions and to look at the infantalisation of relationships in contemporary culture as adolescence is stretched out into mature adulthood. Tyldum rapidly works through the formulaic relationship models suggested by: Blind Date, Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of here! He checks into the getting to know you rituals as formulated in every Rom-Com: the sport (Annie Hall) , the swank dinner out, the disco, and of course the BED. They are a couple in love without a care in the world, and it so wonderful that young people can get on with their lives in this sort of difficult marooned situation. They are enough for each other, they don’t need other people. Tyldum’s script and scenario doesn’t play it for laughs, not even knight errant one liners, but as the film progresses the power of the satire plays deeper into the movie, cutting though the spectacle which becomes ever more a ridiculous over the top appendage to the course of true love.
Like all tru-love stories, particularly those written by observant teenage girl diarists, Passengers ends happily ever after. Our lovers Aurora and Jim overcome all the obstacles to love, living alone, self sufficient and in mutual blissful contentment to the end of their days. Obviously it was always meant to be this way. It was written in the stars. Or perhaps a computer. Horray! Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org