Spaceship Stockholm Syndrome
Picture the scene: it’s October 2016 and a marketing team is toasting champagne at a ritzy Hollywood club. The head of the team takes a fork and taps his glass to gain the room’s attention. He begins, “Congratulations everyone, thanks to us, we managed to convince an entire populace that Collateral Beauty WASN’T going to be a psychotic plan to con a depressed man of his business while simultaneously dressing it up as a noble plan to bring him back from the brink! And all we had to do was create a trailer that had completely distorted the final shitty product!” The crowd cheers in excitement, alcohol sloshes everywhere as the cheering team celebrates their enormous victory. The speaker caps off his speech, “And NO ONE could top us in hiding a more disturbing plot with a completely misleading trailer of their own!”
The cheering continues until a fog horn is heard. The person who sounded it off is cloaked in a hoodie with the logo of the upcoming Passengers on the back sits at the edge of the bar nursing a Bud Light. He takes a swig before going over to the speaker and hands him the drink. The man says only three words: “Hold my beer.”
Fuck. Me. Sideways. With. A. Sandblaster. How the hell did we get two movies in the same week that completely mislead its audience with their full of shit trailers? And how are both of them covering up some insanely distressing plot that would make any sane person spit out whatever they were drinking upon reading it? Alright, so this may be a plan by the studios to prevent bad word of mouth by labeling what’s so wrong about it as a “spoiler,” but fuck this studio (it’s Sony after all, so who gives a shit?) What I’m about to reveal isn’t a spoiler, it’s a goddamn warning. Skip to the end for my rating if you’re hellbent on seeing this; but I’ll warn you, this stuff is likely to piss you off if you see it in theaters.
So we have Chris Pratt as a mechanic named Jim who’s traveling aboard the spaceship Avalon, an intergalactic cruiser delivering over 5,000 people to a new planet for humanity to start fresh as the ship makes its way across the galaxy for 130 years. All souls are kept in suspended hibernation during this journey; however, a meteor shower collides with the ship and several of the systems go haywire leading Jim to be awoken 90 years too early. At first, he panics and tries to figure out a way to return him back to sleep but it’s to no avail. So he tries to enjoy the ship’s various amenities like games, movies, food and alcohol, but he quickly becomes despondent after a year. Only one thing prevents him from taking his own life: meeting a writer named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) who wakes from her slumber as well…and at this point that’s all I’m willing to divulge before giving one final spoiler warning. It’s not a spoiler as essentially everything I’ve described is the first third of the film but it’s important for what comes next and why it all goes so wrong. Last chance to back out now…
So this isn’t revealed as a twist, but as a “normal” progression from where the film begins: Jim has become so lonely that he begins to fantasize over a woman he finds sleeping in one of the pods. He learns about her history, her works, and everything he could ever need to know about her through the ship’s systems as she sleeps. Jim then wonders if he could wake her up from hibernation by deliberately tampering with the ship’s systems, hell he even tries to dismiss the idea as he converses with the ship’s robotic bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen). But ultimately, a quarter into the film, Jim gives into temptation and wakes Aurora up.
When they meet, he feigns ignorance as to how she woke up. And while she tries in vain to put herself back to sleep, she begins to naturally gravitate towards Jim (as he’s literally the only other person she could talk to besides the robot and he’s pretty much anchored to the bar). And Jim engages with her in all of her passions, and they end up falling in “wuv” with her taking the initiative in seeking sex from him…you know, to distract you from the fact of how insanely FUCKED UP this all is.
I’m not going to mince words here, Jim is raping Aurora. Not through physical force, but by fraud. He deliberately conceals the fact he has essentially doomed her to live her life out the spaceship with him as her sole companion. He deliberately conceals his knowledge of her life before boarding the spaceship to quickly familiarize himself with her. And he repeatedly has sex with Aurora with her erroneously believing that “they were lucky to be unlucky and find each other.”
I have no doubt that some will disagree with me, but my stance is the same and I’ve got some legal precedent to back that shit up…it helps to be an attorney sometimes. Under the Title 10 of the United States Code for the Armed Services, sexual assault is defined as (among other things) “committing a sexual act upon another person by inducing a belief by any artifice, pretense, or concealment that the person is another person.” Several States also have similar definitions on their books as well, so I’m not going to dance around the subject. Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, how does the movie decide to treat this atrocious crime? Like a fucking romance of course!
No seriously, just when Jennifer Lawrence’s character finds out about Jim did, it’s treated as a freaking roadblock to their relationship. You know, like they miscommunicated about something really important about themselves or having difficulty with a negative personality flaw their significant other had, simple shit. The director, Morten Tyldum (he of fame for Headhunters and The Imitation Game), absolutely adored this script and called this set up a straight up “love story.” That’s not a fucking joke. And it only gets worse from there in a completely fucked up scene where Pratt uses the ship’s intercom system to attempt to apologize for what he did and explain himself, even as she screams and cries to get away from him…only she never can.
Any other director would have recognized as a perfect horror moment and had the film explored the moral implications of what Jim did or give Lawrence a character arc to seek justice or punishment against the man who wronged her, I wouldn’t be talking about this movie like the way I am. I wouldn’t be ignoring the set design or the fact Pratt and Lawrence are trying their best to act this drivel even as the script miserably fails them with dialogue that would make a harlequin romance novelist gnash their teeth in disgust. And I wouldn’t be ignoring a couple of clever scenes involving the manipulation of gravity. I wouldn’t be fucking fuming, slamming every part of my keyboard to string together the words of how badly I want to tear this film in half. But unfortunately for this piece of crap, it opted for the worst treatment of an on screen couple since Fifty Shades of Grey and a fucking moronic ending to last the ages.
I can’t stop harping on how utterly messed up this supposed relationship is. Hell, the movie throws Laurence Fishburne out of nowhere to spout some exposition and even rationalizes to Jennifer Lawrence all of Jim’s actions. Almost like he’s saying, “could you blame him?” Yes, Cowboy Curtis, yes I fucking can blame the son of a bitch for his awful choices.
But before the film gives you an opportunity to get angry for how it mishandles the whole situation with Aurora, the movie contrives a reason for the pair to get back together by forcing them to rely on each other and fix the spaceship as everything goes to hell. And by “everything” I mean the ship, the film, and the special effects budget. It’s as if someone wanted to make their own version of Gravity but was given this script instead, and he decided to take all his frustrations that Alfonso Cuaron beat him to the punch and makes boring action happen on screen.
And like I said, the film’s action fails to distract you from how spectacularly awful this script is. The characters feel severely underwritten and one note, and the film feels like wish-fulfillment by some teenage boy who had an unrequited crush in high school and set up this elaborate situation for them to be together. And with that image in my head, I don’t think I will ever have faith in the writer ever again. His name is Jon Spathis, and he initially gained notoriety with the script for Prometheus before Damon Lindelof (the infamous writer of the last seasons of Lost) got his hands on the project and created the confused mess directed by Ridley Scott. He also allegedly wrote Doctor Strange, but C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson took over his script and made several alterations, likely ones that lead to a quality film. And for his first script to not have anyone alter it in any way…I’m now going to be severely worried about any film this guy had major creative control over.
Honestly, I can’t say anything positive about this film aside from the fact Lawrence and Pratt were clearly trying to make this shit stink less even if they failed. Both thespians can thank their lucky stars they’ve got plenty of projects after this movie, because this is a complete trainwreck. Even the set design looks too sterile and too clean, like Apple opening up their own luxury cruise that’s every bit as insufferable as that sounds. And the movie’s pretty visuals fail to keep your attention with how utterly fucked this plot is and how it chooses to resolve itself. It’s a confused little mongrel of a film that thinks it’s telling a simple sci-fi tale but is really delivering a story about every woman’s worst fucking nightmare.
For the slight positives I mentioned above, I won’t give this the lowest rating I’ve got…but this is still super low, painfully low, freaking abysmally low…
SOME OL’ BULLSHIT