Remember Death by Matthew McCullough, Free for CAPC Members
Matthew McCullough suggests that death awareness allows us to find joy in the problems of this world.
Note: This article contains spoilers for Passengers.
That seems to be the consensus about the plot of Passengers, a 2016 sci-fi film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
In the movie, Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, wakes up from his hibernation pod 90 years too early on a space journey to colonize another planet. The mechanical engineer spends an entire year in isolation aboard the Avalon, unable to access the ship’s systems, converse with Earth, or wake up a crew member to help him.
Understandably, he goes a little crazy with loneliness. On the day he contemplates suicide, he notices Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) asleep in her pod. Curious about her, he looks up her passenger logs and discovers she is a funny, talented writer, and pretty much his dream woman. Then, a horrible thought comes to him: he could wake her up.
To his credit, Jim fights the idea for a good long while. But like a man dying of thirst who can only think about water, he can’t deny that companionship would make his miserable existence much easier. And, of course, he ends up reviving her.But [Jim’s] infatuation has been replaced with real love, and real love means giving Aurora a choice.
The movie does not deny that this is a horrible, horrible thing to do. By sabotaging her pod—and there is no way to put her back into hibernation—he is condemning her to live the rest of her life aboard the Avalon with no other companions (besides himself and Arthur, the android butler). He is taking away whatever plans she had for her life on the new world. Some might (and in the movie, Aurora eventually does) compare this act to murder.
Naturally, they fall in love and everything is hunky-dory until Arthur spills the beans that Jim intentionally sabotaged Aurora’s pod. Then the movie turns into a horror film as Aurora realizes her life has been taken from her by the very man she has feelings for. The movie captures her horror, her anger, and her fear in a series of emotionally wretched scenes. She is so mad she doesn’t know what to do, so hurt she can’t let herself feel. Jim creepily speaks to her over the ship’s intercom while she is jogging, the scene emphasizing the fact that she can run but never truly get away from him.
Many viewers are shocked by Aurora’s eventual decision to forgive Jim. How dare he get a happy ending after what he did to her? It’s unfair, some cry. It’s unjust. In many reviews, his treatment of Aurora is compared to Stockholm Syndrome, which suggests Aurora doesn’t understand what she’s doing when she forgives him. Pratt’s decision is presented as morally wrong but it seems to be pragmatically justified because he gets what he wanted all along.
I have a problem with completely writing off Aurora as a victim, especially when she decides to stay with Jim at the movie’s conclusion. (I am not saying she wasn’t a victim earlier. She obviously was. Calm down, everyone!) By the story’s end, she has come to understand Jim’s sin better. She doesn’t (nor do I) agree with what he did, but she can see where his desperation came from.
“A drowning man will always try to drag you down with him,” says Gus Mancuso, a crew member who wakes up near the end of the film. It is at this point that I think Aurora begins to see Jim as a human being, not just the man she is in love with who betrayed her; human beings make mistakes, sometimes big ones.
Aurora catches a glimpse of a future life on the ship alone when Jim’s life is threatened. She even has to pull the lever that will likely disintegrate him and his spacesuit. All her anger drains away; all her thoughts of retribution are gone as she confronts the terror of ending his life in order to save others (she’s venting built-up reactor energy into space and he has to manually hold open the door because it’s broken—you know how it goes).
She sees a life of utter loneliness ahead of her, and it frightens her.
In the end, after Jim risks his life to save the ship and almost dies (no matter how much more poetic that would be, they’re not gonna kill off Chris Pratt), he discovers the pod in the medical bay can be programmed to put one person back into hibernation. He offers it to Aurora. It doesn’t make up for what he did to her, but he could have hidden the knowledge from her and forced her to live on the ship with him for the rest of their lives. That was what past–Jim would have done. But his infatuation has been replaced with real love, and real love means giving Aurora a choice.
Is Aurora blinded by her love and that’s what makes her forgo the pod and stay with him? Is she morally wrong to do so? Would she have done so if he wasn’t a handsome man with a teddy bear smile? Is she letting him take advantage of her, not standing up for her own rights? Is her action here justifying his original sin? That’s all debatable. However, her decision to stay isn’t what interests me. It’s the decision to forgive that does.
By seeing Jim as a human who makes mistakes, she lets go of her anger. By recognizing that true justice would mean an annihilation of humanity because we all get it wrong, she offers forgiveness. She is not the victim here; she is the savior, pardoning a horrendous sin out of a love that is centered on caring for someone else over herself.
Sometimes it’s harder to forgive those we love and trust most, because we think so highly of them. And when that trust is broken, it seems like the end of the world. Trust can be built up again if both sides are willing to work at it, and forgiveness is where it all starts.
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