I liked most of this movie despite it not being what I bargained for. It was marketed as a straightforward Locked In on a Spaceship setting romance here in Japan, and that is what I went in expecting. I found Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s chemistry to be compelling, the acting excellent and the visuals and worldbuilding fantastic- as a straightforward Sci Fi movie with a side of romance, it should have satisfied. The problem is, it didn’t stop there. It examined an ethical question, and then it tried to say something philosophical about the Purpose of Life and the “illusion” of our choices. On the latter, it missed the point rather egregiously (and had to do a lot of mental backflips to arrive at its pronouncement.)
What most critics complain about is the way the story introduced a moral dilemma as conflict between the characters, when a straightforward Locked In Romance would have sufficed (and was what was misleadingly offered). Passengers asked a tough question about human nature and gave an uncomfortable answer: if you were doomed to die alone, would you doom somebody else to die with you to ease your own loneliness?
We see Jim descend almost into madness during his year of isolation, after his hibernation pod malfunctions and wakes him 90 years ahead of schedule on the spaceship Avalon. Despite the ample entertainment, company of a friendly android bartender and many luxuries, what first seems to be hedonistic freedom (helping himself to the best suite on the ship, being able to sit anywhere in the theater) soon turns into tedium. He starts drinking increasing amounts, neglecting basic hygiene/decency and finally becomes suicidal. And yet, just as he hits rock bottom, he catches sight of the (aptly named) Aurora in her
enchanted sleep hibernation pod and latches onto the idea of waking her.
He agonizes over the ethics for months before he does it, and in this, I disagree with the critics: the movie does a great job of exploring the dilemma.
Jim: “Say you were trapped on a desert island, and you had the power to bring someone there with you. Would you make that wish?”
Jim: “Say you figured out how to do something that would make your life a million times better, but you knew it was wrong, and there’s no taking it back. How do you do the math?”
Arthur: “These are not robot questions, Jim.”
Jim: “I know how to wake Aurora up.”
Arthur: “That seems like a fine idea. You could use some company.”
Jim: “I’d be stranding her on this ship for the rest of her life.”
Arthur: “Oh, well you can’t do that.”
Every character reinforces that he did something unforgivable by waking Aurora.
Aurora: “I don’t care WHY! YOU TOOK MY LIFE.”
Gus: “How long were you alone?”
Jim: “Thirteen months.”
Gus. “Wow. Still…. Damn.”(shakes head in disapproval)
Aurora: “It’s murder!”
Gus: “I know. But the drowning man will always take another down with him.”
And that is the truth. Jim’s choice to wake Aurora (especially after creepily stalking her online by watching all her video logs and reading her books) is despicable and terrifyingly realistic. It’s an utterly understandable, human thing to do. That’s not what this movie screws up. Depicting an awful choice and its consequences is not a bad narrative. It's realistic and visceral: humans are flawed and we all make bad choices when we feel stuck. What this movie does though is have Aurora absolve him of his crime against her in the end. And that is the source of the cognitive dissonance: you can tell this story was written from a position of privilege because it uses a trite homily to get Aurora to a state that goes beyond forgiveness. Once she learns to accept her fate, she can live happily with the man who violated her!
Aurora: “We all have dreams. We plan our futures like we’re the Captains of our fate. But we’re passengers. We go where fate takes us. And this isn’t the life we planned, but it’s ours.”
Aurora: “You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are. We got lost along the way. But we made a life. A beautiful life. Together.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
This is what white people told their slaves. This is what men told women when they asked for suffrage.
Stop worrying. Stop fighting. This is your fate. STOP PROTESTING THE UNFAIRNESS AND JUST MAKE THE MOST OF IT.
Jim did not deserve forgiveness for not actually giving her life back, no matter how many heroic and apologetic gestures he made. And it boggles the mind that she refused when he offered to put her back in hibernation via the Autodoc (with crew bracelet bypass), happily resigning herself to “traveling forever, never arriving,” her new purpose in life to document being Jim’s comfort on a solitary, neverending journey. Like...???
This tone deafness is akin to the way certain politicians preach that girls should have the babies of their rapists to get something ~beautiful and ~meaningful out of their violation, instead of doing their utmost to move on from it.
That is neither triumphant or beautiful, although the movie tries to sell it as such, so much so that it reiterates the “learn to love the status quo” message twice.
What’s worse is that I can think of ways they could feasibly have taken control of their own fates again? After all, how could Aurora have a ROUND TRIP TICKET unless there was some way to put passengers BACK into hibernation? This should have clued them in to the fact that they shouldn’t give up looking for a solution. And once Deck Chief Gus Mancuso was also prematurely awoken, it boggles the mind that not one of them decides to wake other, more knowledgeable/senior crew to help despite the Avalon (and Gus's health) being in an obvious dire state of emergency.
The most obvious solution is that there had to be another empty pod designed for putting people into hibernation: Gus’ broken one. Since there were plentiful spare parts (and a crew bracelet capable of doing overrides) they could have just fixed his pod (since crew pods are designed for multiple hibernations) and Jim could have gone to sleep too. SIMPLE AS. Then their years locked on a ship would have been just that, an interesting, ethically illuminating adventure. They could have taken control of their destinies again instead of making do with what was forced upon them.
But instead it ended up like Rape Culture in Space: A Story.
What a terrible disappointment of an ending for a fairly good movie.