I am not generally a fan of science fiction, but today I saw Passengers, a science fiction film released on the last day of 2016, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne. The film is set on the commercial spaceship Avalon, which is transporting 5,000 passengers and 258 crew, asleep in “hibernation pods,” on a 120-year journey to colonize the planet Homestead II. Thirty years into its journey, the ship hits a meteor, causing a malfunction that awakens just one passenger, a mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), who soon realizes he is sentenced to live and die on the spaceship with no companionship except an android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), After a year of this, he falls for a still-sleeping fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer whose video profile makes her ever more attractive to Jim. After debating internally (and with Arthur) the rightness of awakening her (which as a mechanic he has figured out how to do), his desire for companionship wins out and he does so, leaving her to think that her “hibernation pod” also malfunctioned. She too is overwhelmed by her situation, but like Jim eventually comes to terms with the situation – and, of course, the two fall in love. Their idyll is ruined, however, when Aurora learns form Arthur that Jim had deliberately revived her. But then another pod failure awakens Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a crew-member. He realizes the ship is undergoing multiple malfunctions and must be fixed - or else. Gus himself soon dies of injuries sustained in his pod malfunction. But, with Gus's ID, Jim and Aurora mange to salvage the ship and fall back in love in the process. Jim figures out how to put Aurora back to sleep, but she chooses to remain with him to make a life together. When the crew awakens 88 year later, they discover Jim and Aurora’s house and garden on the ship's main concourse, while Aurora's "book" reveals their story.
The love story is a well done, if formulaic, tale of a doomed couple - a kind of Titanic for the space age - with an excellent cast of attractive actors who turn what would otherwise be an unremarkable sci-fi-thriller into a meditation on what matters most in life and what it really means to live in the present moment, whatever the circumstances.