So, Passengers’ Big Twist Is That It Promotes Rape Culture

by Erika W. Smith

If you’ve gone to a movie in the past few months, you’ve probably seen the trailer for the movie Passengers, which is being marketed as a romance set in space. Chris Pratt’s character and Jennifer Lawrence’s character are in suspended animation in a rocketship on their way to a new planet when they wake up early and proceed to fall in love and save the day.

However, there’s a twist: Pratt’s character wakes up first, and then decides to force Lawrence’s character out of her suspended animation because she’s super hot and he wants her. And then he proceeds to spend much of the film lying to her about it. But in the end, it’s all okay because hey, they’re hot and “in love.”

Many film critics — particularly women film critics — are rightfully disgusted. 

At CBR, Kristy Puchko writes:

It’s not that I have no sympathy for Jim’s dilemma and pain. But the moment he breaks Aurora from her hibernation, the film crosses a line it refuses to fully acknowledge, and so the romance is not fun, but FUBAR. This is not the premise of a love story: Boy sees girl. Boy becomes obsessed with girl from afar, decides he loves her, decides they are made for each other, she just doesn’t know it yet. Guy rips the girl out of her life, abducts her to live with him in a bunker she can’t escape.

This is cyberstalking, and then kidnapping. “Passengers” abruptly becomes a horror movie, but hopes you’ll be so caught up in the beauty of its sci-fi visuals and gorgeous stars — who repeatedly engage in make-out sessions and off-camera sex — to notice.

At Indiewire, Kate Erbland writes:

At the very least, the feature — marketed as a kind of “‘Titanic’ in space” love epic with a big, shocking twist — should be far more entertaining than the flat-footed, loosely assembled result. And that’s to say nothing of the icky questions of consent that run through its central narrative, only to be brushed aside by the film’s iffy conclusion.

At the Daily Dot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw writes:

On its own, this is a great premise for a psychological thriller. Jim’s position is understandable yet unforgivable, and Aurora’s role is a case study in rape culture. Believing that she and Jim are victims of the same freak accident, she falls in love with him after a montage of deeply unconvincing dates in the mall-spaceship. Of course, the truth is that Jim ruined her life because he thought she was hot. At one point Jim’s actions are described as murder, but it’s more like a combination of murder, kidnapping, and rape.

Instead of treating this material like American Psycho, the result is more like a Nicholas Sparks movie in space.

At Film Ireland, Sarah Cullen writes:

It’s hard to know what’s worse here; the jaw-dropping misogyny on show or the lazy, ridiculously convenient world building that is there purely to service the plot (Oh no wait – it’s definitely the misogyny. Like, without question. But the world building is pretty terrible too).

At Pajiba, Courtney Enlow writes:

Of course, the film has met a great deal of outrage as this information has come to light in reviews. That’s why director Morten Tyldum has acknowledged the horror of the moviegoing public. JK GUYZ.

“That’s what we do. It’s a desperate need, that you do at a desperate hour. And I think it’s interesting that characters do that. They make dark choices. I think it’s also, and I think it’s big kudos to Chris [Pratt]’s character. This is something people, everybody’s been afraid of that. “Will we sympathize with him? Would you like him?” But the thing is that you understand him. That’s some of his power as an actor is that you can really identify with his this man who goes through this and does this, because I think it’s something most of us would have done.”

And you know what? Here’s the thing. I think he’s right. It’s wrong that he’s right, but that a lot of people would in fact rob someone of their entire future, dominate a woman’s entire existence and take it as his own, something he is entitled to and deserves because she’s a non-human possession. That’s what rape culture is. As long as rape culture exists, as long as people can understand and explain away this choice in this film, he’ll be right. And how fucked up is that?

Some critics are also comparing the reaction to Passengers to the reaction to Ghostbusters. As you know (because there’s no way you could have missed it), misogynist neckbeards wouldn’t stop whining about how having WOMEN bust ghosts was ruining their childhoods, and that the movie failed because of it. But Passengers is more of a box office flop, and it’s largely because word about its rape culture plot is spreading and women are decided to take their dollars elsewhere.

In a piece titled “Hollywood must realize that Passengers flopped because of its creepy male protagonist,” Amy Jones at The Pool writes:

It’s fine to report on the fact that Ghostbusters didn’t do as well as expected and that part of the reason is because there was a boycott by angry men. Those are all facts. It’s not fine, however, to ignore the same facts for a different film that’s led by men, rather than women, and ignored by women. Time and time again, we are shown that there aren’t enough women in the film industry and, by kicking them when they’re down, or gloating in their failures, we aren’t going to change that. Without more women to say, “Er, this is a bit gross, isn’t it?” we’ll just end up with more creepy films like Passengers, but if we don’t change things soon then, quite frankly, we’ll deserve them.”

So, yeah, maybe skip this one and watch the new Star Wars instead.

Published January 5, 2017

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