Problematic Passengers: An example of how Hollywood keeps subtly accepting violence against women | Film

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By Anonymous

***This post contains SPOILERS for the movie Passengers.***

There has been a massive hype around Passengers in the months leading up to its release. With an all-star cast consisting of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence doing interviews together left, right and centre to promote the film, they described the plot each time as two people on a spaceship, who mysteriously wake up early from a 120-year journey…

Seems alright, good actors? Let’s give it a go, I thought.

Okay so let’s run through my initial thoughts: The first twenty minutes of the film is just Chris Pratt going solo. This is the first sign where the plot summary stated in interviews differed from the actual film… they both don’t mysteriously wake up as some weird twist of fate! Secondly, throughout this whole section I was thinking why is it the man that wakes up first? Why couldn’t it be Jennifer Lawrence’s character that has to wander around the ship on her own, who reads the instruction manuals of the ship and tries to figure out what has gone wrong? If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Last year The Martian, featuring a lone Matt Damon to fend for himself on Mars, while the female characters were relegated to worriers. The Martian, of course, reached critical acclaim. This re-occurrence, reiterates to me something which is ever present in Hollywood—and in patriarchal society—male is primary, female is secondary.

After a year on the ship by himself, Jim is losing all hope. I will give him that, it’s a very depressing situation, he is literally going to grow old by himself and die on this ship, if he doesn’t go mad beforehand. What happens next really boiled my blood: In a bleak period of his depression, Jim lays eyes on Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora (and I’ll be dammed if that is not a reference to Sleeping Beauty, the princess who needs the love of a man to wake her from her slumber to live happily ever after, they even call her ‘the sleeping girl’ at one point). So, Aurora is in her hibernation pod and Jim is depressed. He sees a good-looking gal and bam! He is infatuated. Jim then goes full stalker mode and finds out everything about her, becoming obsessed. After a period of deliberation, in consultation with his robot friend Author, his only form of interaction and connection, he decides to wake Aurora up. Through this act, Jim exerts his power over Aurora, and the consequences of this are that Aurora lives a lie, while Jim takes advantage of her unaware state. And this is just for the remainder of their journey. He has also taken away from her a life she envisioned and planned for herself on a new planet.

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

I’m going to label this situation as a weird outer-space combination of Stockholm syndrome and murder. He knows the severity of his actions, taking away Aurora’s life on the new planet, but proceeds to do it anyway. Now I know that these are dramatic and fantasy circumstances—poor Jim he’s going to be alone on this ship all his life—but if we consider film as an extension of our reality, this act is nothing more than another man seeing what he wants, and taking control of a woman’s body for his own benefit. She does not get a say in what has happened to her, and ultimately it is Aurora who must live with the consequences of his actions.

I will admit, they made Aurora a strong and determined woman. She goes through the same intense emotions and depressions about the situation she was in as Jim initially did. However, when the pair inevitable start to “date”, it is unsettling watching their interactions, especially sexual, as an audience member who knows the truth about their situation, whilst Aurora is being lied to and manipulated. We will also give credit where it’s due and commend that Aurora is infuriated when she finds out. She stops interacting with Jim and even physically expresses her anger, which is a rare sight to see a victim stand up to their abuser.

Unfortunately, all this anger is lost when the action picks back up. The weird dynamic is put on hold and they start to suss out what’s happening with the ship. After Jim gets all heroic and decides to sacrifice himself to save the ship, Aurora decides she cannot live without him, that love has overridden her rage. She instead forgives Jim for taking away her life on the new planet and lying to her on multiple occasions for his own benefit. In the end, they find a way where one can go back into hibernation, but she opts for a life on a ship in solidarity with him.

In typical Hollywood form, love prevails and romance saves the day. I’d just like to mention that there is some great feminist theory about the harms of the romance genre and how it goes unquestioned because it is so dominate in mainstream film and TV. Things in movies are taken as unproblematic because we just see them over and over again. In Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970), Firestone contends, “romanticism is a cultural tool of male power to keep women from knowing their condition” (166). The condition being, “women [as] the only “love” objects in our society … This functions to preserve direct sex pleasure for the male, reinforcing female dependence” (Firestone 148, 1970). Due to this pre-existing condition of woman as love object, Aurora eventually finds herself forgiving the man who has ruined her chances at life, because she has fulfilled woman’s purpose of gaining affection from a man.

What is the most frustrating when I think about this scenario is that this is a film. It is not real, fictitious. The creators of films have so much power to create amazing and empowering stories that differ from our current world, projecting an idea of what our world could be. This is especially true for the sci-fi genre, as writers can think of an entirely new world, yet exhibit no progress. This film merely reiterates an acceptance of violence against women, by perpetrators and bystanders, and a harmful brainwashing ideology that love conquers all.  

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used in this post.
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