"Passengers" proves that even space explorers can't escape sexism

Earthly attitudes about women and gender roles tie down this spacebound romance

Although it takes place in the stars, “Passengers” is as tied down by age-old romantic tropes as any other blockbuster, preventing it from skyrocketing into cinematographic space as a trail-blazing film.

As college students, we are learning skills that will aid us in changing the world, but what beliefs and attitudes will we take with us? How will the preconceived notions we carry affect and shape our future?

Films shape our perceptions of reality, especially so for younger people. It’s important for ASU students to examine the ideas around us, especially in the media. All over campus, media is constantly sold to us through movie screenings, musical shows and even in the classroom. It's important to filter the information we absorb, and reflect upon its portrayal of gender.

Although we learn on a campus that offers many feminist theory courses, it's still possible to be beholden to such antiquated ideas.

Like many films, “Passengers” carries a number of harmful, underlying notions we must be aware of.

One of these suggested notions is that female characters are only there to be romanticized. Aurora Lane, the female lead played by Jennifer Lawrence, gets less screen time than her co-star, hurting her characterization and the film's credibility as a progressive romance.

“Male roles are a lot more apt to a whole character, with a whole background,” Diana Price, first officer of ASU’s Women in Film club, said. “Women are typically one-dimensional, there because they’re offering sex to the male character.”

Jim Preston is the unquestionable hero of this film. For the film's first act, we’re given an intimate tour through Preston's life since he emerged from a cryogenic pod 90 years too early on a 120-year voyage, and the psychologically crumbling effects his isolation has on him. 

It's this soul-crushing loneliness that leads to an unhealthy fixation on the sleeping Lane, played by Lawrence. Research shows that prolonged isolation can cause delusions, obsessive thoughts and an altered sense of reality. Perhaps it is more out of desperation and less out of love that he idealizes her as “the perfect woman.”

Thus he sets the foundation of their relationship by breaking into her pod, forcing her to awaken early on the ship with him. 

"'Passengers" is really more of a horror movie, especially if you view it from Aurora’s perspective," Jackson McHenry, entertainment writer, said in a review about the film. 

What was advertised as a blockbuster romance set in space instead comes across as a case study in Stockholm Syndrome with romantic and sci-fi elements.

The relationship reads as abusive from both sides. Not only does Preston demonstrate a startling lack of respect, but when Lane discovers his betrayal, she reacts with understandable dread. 

But when she barges into his room while he is sleeping and attacks him violently, he simply accepts the blows and looks at her like a guilty puppy. The scene gives off the implication that this is his deserved punishment for his actions.

No one deserves abuse, and portrayals like this only further the stigma against male abuse victims. Our society generally considers men as stronger than women, an informal social control that discriminates against male victims and dissuades them from seeking help. Portraying a woman beating a man as righteous and deserved is abhorrent.

“You can see it all across the board,” Price said. “Women are portrayed as the damsel in distress, the mom or the girlfriend who wants her boyfriend to stay at home. No girl ever fits that. No girl is ever one complete way.”

Price believes that having more women creating movies will change how women are portrayed in the media.

“Yes, obviously there’s a problem," she said. "But what am I doing to be impactful on my fellow women? Well, I’m producing my own films. I’m starting a club. I’m not just gonna sit here and complain about it because that’s not moving anything. I want to be inspirational so other girls can see this and go, ‘I can do this too.’”

Is “Passengers” the root of this problem? No, but it’s a byproduct of the troubling attitudes towards women and relationships ubiquitous in the media. 

Be vigilant about the media you absorb. This is especially pertinent considering that young students are so heavily shaped by the media we consume. It's only when we clear our minds of rigid ideologies that we can fully focus on the future.

Reach the reporter at sosulli2@asu.edu or follow @serenaeosully on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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