According to Wikipedia, “Passengers is a 2016 American science fiction adventure film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts. It stars Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy García. The film tells about two people who wake up 90 years too soon from an induced hibernation on board a spaceship bound for a new planet.”
That description is generally correct—if you were to discard the biggest spoiler this movie hinges around. The spoiler that has many viewers crying “Sexism!”, with a percentage saying they will boycott the film because of it.
Well, let’s get to the crux of the matter and put it to a vote.
Yes, that’s right: ******SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT******
The Wikipedia description isn’t necessarily a lie, but, rather, it is what the female lead character, Eve (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence), first believes to be the situation when she emerges from her pod. The reality—and here is where the spoilers start, folks—is that Frank (portrayed by Chris Pratt) woke up first, alone. He was housed in the only stasis pod to malfunction when the colony ship was ominously damaged. While Frank is unable to repair his pod (he is an engineer by trade), and is dealing with the frustration of discovering how limited his security clearance is, he eventually works out how to make the most of his isolation through the astute observations offered up by the ship’s bartender—an android played by the ever-brilliant Michael Sheen.
However, accessing as many perks on the ship as possible can’t distract Frank from the realization that he has woken up 90 years too soon, and will die on the ship after spending many years alone. Frank becomes suicidal and in his moment of greatest weakness, spots Eve’s stasis pod and is mesmerized by her visage. He looks her profile up on the computer and reads and watches everything he can access about her. His interest is that of a man starving for company, but it could easily be seen as an obsession, depending on how you frame it in your mind.
And here comes the crux of the movie—the part that divides its viewers. Frank wrestles with his consciousness, appearing to realize that dooming someone else to live their entire life aboard a spaceship is cruel, but he still decides to wake Eve up anyway, effectively stealing her future. The thought of being alone for an entire lifetime is driving him crazy; maybe too crazy to reason.
But is Frank’s decision merely the act of a selfish man being driven crazy by incessant loneliness, or the act of a man who subconsciously believes he has the right to dictate the life of the woman he wants to date, perpetuating the sexism that is still prevalent today in a future setting? If he had’ve just wanted a mere friendship, or someone with more expertise to help find another solution to his predicament, he could have combed through all the passenger profiles—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—to find someone in a specialized field who could help him on a practical level. Except it soon becomes clear he chose Eve with the ultimate goal of having a relationship with her, to ease his loneliness on a purely personal level.
A lot of viewers, men and women (although admittedly more of the later), objected to that being the main basis for his decision, in a futuristic science fiction movie where other potential plotlines could have been more…enlightened. And many viewers were not happy about the fact that Eve chose to be with him at all, saying she was overly sexualized in the film (in comparison to the male lead) and it’s unbelievable that Frank and Eve would ‘hook up’ so quickly, simply because they are the only two awake. Add to the fact that she decides to resume their relationship, and trust him again, after she finds out he had sabotaged her pod and taken away her right to choose, the plot appears to endorse or validate the impression that Frank is of the superior gender in their union.
But, what if we switch one simple factor in the movie, and consider the same plot from a different perspective? What if it had’ve been Eve who had woken up first? Eve who had been driven so crazy by loneliness that she woke Frank up to keep her company and give her comfort, to try and ease the harsh void of a lifetime trapped on a colony ship. If it was the woman who had lied to the man about what she did, because she didn’t want him to hate her, and the woman who had taken away the man’s choice, instead of the other way around, are those very actions no longer sexist if enacted by Eve instead of Frank? Does it mean that women would be seen as more empowered in the future? (Or perhaps less empowered, since it might imply that a woman can only be strong with a man by her side.)
Perspective can be a funny thing. As a female viewer, I cringed at specific scenes and lines in the movie, because they did appear sexist in isolation, and it bothered me that Frank would not leave Eva alone when she needed space following the reveal of his deception. However, I could also see why there are people who believe (and I include myself in this camp, also) that the movie does emphasize how wrong his actions have been—before he made them, and after—and that people can learn from their mistakes.
At the end of the movie, Frank gave Eve the choice to go back into induced hibernation when he discovered how to do it, bringing their story full circle, and putting the entire future of their relationship into her capable hands. Sure, their history complicates matters, and I feel it is in some way unfair of him to put her in a situation where she would naturally feel guilty if she decided to leave him behind. But he didn’t have to tell her he had discovered a way for her to return to suspended animation, which showed he truly did see her as an equal, even if it meant he could lose her.
As an intelligent and (now) fully informed woman Eve made her choice to live out her life on the ship, with Frank. Given the focus of this article, it would be hypocritical if we did not accept her decision.