ONE LAST THING ABOUT PASSENGERS I SWEAR I’M SO SORRY. I dragged my family to watch Passengers tonight (merry Christmas to those who celebrate) and on the way home we had a discussion that lead to a breakthrough (as I like to call it). That breakthrough was me explaining the negative reception towards Passengers with psychological theories. This is just stemmed from my constant blabbering about Passengers, but can probably be applied to other movies and situations as well.
WARNING: spoilers ahead
Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE)
The first theory is the fundamental attribution error. So I learned this sometime last year in my psychology class and it’s actually pretty interesting. Essentially it’s when people attribute an individual’s behaviour to internal characteristics like someone’s personality, as opposed to the external situation the individual is placed in.
In terms of Passengers, people have been reacting negatively to the fact that Jim wakes Aurora up, calling it “creepy” and “gross”. Now, this can be seen as an example of FAE. People (critics especially it seems) are attributing Jim’s behaviour (waking Aurora up) to his personality, thus branding him as a creepy stalking. However, in my opinion, attributing his actions to his personality is the wrong move. We know that Jim has been placed in extreme circumstances, where he has been alone for a year on a steel spaceship. As I had mentioned and explained in my previous reviews (spoiler FREE, spoiler FILLED), it is human to want human companionship in this specific situation.
I honestly believe that the reason people are saying that the twist is so horrendous that they can’t bare to watch the film is because they believe that Jim is just a terrible human being for waking up Aurora and essentially murdering her. I am certainly not saying that what he did wasn’t wrong, because believe me, on every moral and ethical level, it is wrong. But, I don’t necessarily think it makes him a bad person, just because I am taking into count and attributing his final decision to wake Aurora up to the extreme situation he is being placed it. Point is, I understand his behaviour, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I accept it.
Self-Serving Bias (SSB)
Self-serving bias is ANOTHER theory I learned in my psychology class (didn’t think I’d really ever apply it to something I love as much as movies). This theory is based on the idea that people will do whatever it takes to maintain their self-esteem and view themselves as good people. In my opinion, the negative reception towards Passengers could be partially due to this theory. Nowadays, there are two types of movies: ones that are so out of this world and sweep you away and ones that break down and reflect human society. Passengers is a little bit of both, but at its core, its the latter.
Jim waking Aurora up reflects the fact that we as human beings are selfish. We tend to do things to benefit ourselves more than others. Jim wakes Aurora up to alleviate his loneliness and perpetual suffering, therefore making him seem selfish (this connects to the previous theory mentioned above). Now, viewers of the film see this behaviour and think: “So the creators of this film are telling me that this movie is about human behaviour. Jim wakes Aurora up, making him selfish. So the filmmakers are telling me I’m selfish? No way.”. Here my friends is a prime example of SSB.
Since viewers understand that the actions of the characters in this movie are meant to reflect us as humans, what they are seeing is that humans are selfish, therefore meaning that they are selfish. This is where SSB kicks in. Being selfish is seen as a negative characteristic and since SSB causes people to do what it takes to maintain their self-image as a good person, they will instantly reject this to do so. Essentially what I believe is that viewers do not want to believe that if they were placed in the same situation that Jim was in, they would be the better person and NOT wake another person up, sentencing them to death. This makes them feel like they are good people therefore maintaining their self-image and self-esteem.
To wrap up, I’d just like to remind everyone that this is my personal opinion from a very psychological point of view. This doesn’t mean that every single person who has had a negative reaction to the film’s “twist” thinks this way, it’s meerely a possibility. I really enjoyed this film, but it’s certainly not perfect and has many flaws. Those flaws are a strong contributing factor to the negative reception this film has gotten, once again reitterating that my psychological rant is not me generalizing the cause of the negative reception towards this movie. These theories are widely applicable and can be applied to a myriad of other films and situations (like I mentioned before), just none that my sleepy brain can think of at this exact moment.
I actually never thought I’d apply psychology to something that I love as much as films, so this has been really interesting and I’m certainly hoping I’ll be able to do more with it in the future.
Take two of the biggest movie stars on the planet, make them the leads of a movie directed by someone fresh off his first Oscar nomination for directing an Oscar-winning Best Picture nominee, give them a $110 million budget, and a script that was near the top of Hollywood’s annual Blacklist of the best unproduced scripts on the market, with a premise that sees the two popular, conventionally attractive leads stranded alone together in outer space (a very in vogue concept at the moment after Gravity and The Martian), and have them fall in love. Sounds like the recipe for a major hit, right? Well, what all of these ingredients led to instead was Passengers, one of the worst movies of this or any year. So where did it all go wrong?
You can put some of the blame on the stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, whose wooden, passionless performances make it seem like they’ve never heard of the concept of charisma or screen presence. Some of it can go to director Morten Tyldum, whose knack for creativity, precision and sheer entertainment value in his directing seems to be conversely related to how high his budget goes – the more money put into a film, the less he seems to care. Some of it can even go to the production team, with a bland and unoriginal set design that feels like it was made up of discarded parts left over from other, much better films set in outer space. Ultimately though, the meat of the responsibility for the cataclysmic disaster that is Passengers belongs to the script from Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange), a new nadir representing how little credibility that annually touted Blacklist actually has. Some of the scripts from the list have led to great films (The Social Network, The Wolf of Wall Street), but Passengers joins the ranks of Red Riding Hood and All About Steve (really) as utterly heinous creations derived from what are supposedly some of the “best” scripts out there. The most insane thing here is that the original script, the one that made it onto the Blacklist, is somehow even worse than the one that they used to shoot the film! Which is saying a lot, because Passengers starts bad and only gets a whole lot worse by the time it reaches its stupefying finale.
Beyond the fact that the script for Passengers is loaded with recycled ideas, very poor backstory (Pratt’s character has literally zero history or inner life, and his only defining trait seems to be that he’s a mechanic, and Lawrence’s doesn’t fare much better), and absolutely no sense of awareness of its own storytelling universe, the movie is doomed from conception by a core idea that makes it one of the most repugnant and irresponsible movies ever made. No spoilers here, but an event at the end of the first act (which the trailers make out to be the BIG REVEAL of the whole movie), paints events in a shockingly loathsome light where it becomes impossible to invest in this story the way that the movie wants you to. Now this didn’t have to entirely derail the film, as they could have gone into a dark, incredibly interesting direction that explored the characters in a far more meaningful way. What they do instead, however, is implausibly pepper over this atrocious development with a lazy and generic third act, which then becomes even worse by not only refusing to condemn the problematic issue, but actively leaning into it and treating this as if it is the grand epic romance of our time. Passengers so transparently wants to be the new Titanic, but with the way this thing is written it’s like if the romantic heroes of Titanic at the end were Kate Winslet and Billy Zane’s characters. Except somehow it’s even worse. This isn’t just a bad movie – it’s morally reprehensible, and deeply troubling that everyone thought that this was an acceptable way to treat this story and sell it to the masses.