Thursday, July 15, 2010

Passengers -- perspectives and truth

Director: Rodrigo Garcia, 2008. (PG-13)

A plane crashes on the beach just outside a big city. A dozen or so passengers survive, staggering around like drunks as they watch the engines explode. Having experienced such catastrophe, seeing so many die, it is not surprising they need grief counseling. And Claire (Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married) is the young counselor assigned to provide this emotional support.

Claire has spent most of her young life studying for advanced degrees. She has been hiding behind her books, avoiding the real world. Unlike her activist sister, she has been afraid to face reality. Her mentor Perry (Andre Braugher) realizes this and forces her into the fray alone. She will help them with group sessions.

She meets them initially at the hospital on the night of the crash. While most agree to come to her sessions, Eric (Patrick Wilson) refuses. He says he does not need counseling. But he wants to see her, only not as a patient. He is riding an apparent wave of euphoria, an outcome of the post-traumatic stress of the situation.

The sharing by the survivors in her group counseling offers varied perspectives of the crash. Each recalls it differently. As in any situation, we see things from our own vantage point (e.g. see Vantage Point). Our own personalities may distort what we saw or remember. But one remembers an explosion before the crash that seemed to be the prime cause of the crash.

When Claire starts the sessions weird things begin to occur. Creepy strangers appear outside, watching and waiting. Then the survivors start to mysteriously disappear. The airline investigator Arkin (David Morse, Disturbia) appears to be covering up something. Classic conspiracy, or so it seems. The premise appears positive but the payoff fails to land, leaving us as passengers on an empty vessel.

For most of the film, you wish you were one of those passengers who disappears. If you were lucky you would be one of the first so you could skip most of the movie. If you were the unluckiest, you would have to sit through the entire film. In fact, Passengers has just enough to keep us interested and watching, but only barely. Wilson is creepily odd as the euphoric passenger who hits on Claire. But the chemistry between Wilson and Hathaway is missing, and her character comes across as immature, unprofessional and lacking in ethical judgment. We cannot root for her if she persists in "hanging out" with this creepy oddball.

Passengers touches on a couple of topics worth exploring. First is perspective. Eric, a VP in a business firm, re-evaluates his life after surviving the crash. He realizes all his time invested in making the deal was worth nothing. As Jesus said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26) There is so much more that he wants to do now that he has been given a second chance.

What does it take for us to realize what is important in our lives? We can stop at any time and step back from the rat race we may find ourselves in. It does not have to take an event of such tragedy. Even this film can be our wake-up call. Have we forgotten our family? Do we need to reconnect with a sibling we have not talked to for months, even years? Do we need to find ourselves, pursue our dream, instead of punching a clock for the next 40 years?

When Claire sees Eric in his apartment for the first time, he tells her the crash was a marvel for him: "I feel like I'm born again." He was relating his awakening, as from his dream-life. But we can also remember that there is a true "born-again" feeling. Jesus said it to Nicodemus, in a night-time encounter. The scholar, had come to Jesus to listen to one who had performed miracles. But Jesus took control of the conversation by saying, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (Jn. 3:3). We can enter into new life, see the very kingdom of God, by choosing to follow Jesus (Jn. 1:12). In this way we can be truly born-again.

As Claire digs into the mystery, she pursues the truth behind the "accident". She tells Perry, "The truth heals." She is right of course. We desire the truth. Sometimes it is hard, but it is better than being misled. Jesus said that the "truth shall set you free" (Jn. 8:32). And he also said, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6). He is the truth-bringer, the life-giver. Apart from the truth we die.

One of the taglines for Passengers says "The Truth Can't Hide Forever." The truth is Passengers is not that good and perhaps the film itself ought to hide forever.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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