|Passengers (2016) | 9/10
If the image above conjures memories of The Shining I'm sure it's no accident. Michael Sheen in the fine red tuxedo
, the underlit bar, the general sense of 1920's swank. It's too familiar not to be a nod. And what about the carpet? That's familiar too isn't it? Oh that carpet is in The Shining alright, but not in the bar
. Where you do find it (or something more like it) is in one of the hallways
near the elevators. Why the change? In fact, why reference The Shining at all? Merely because there is a bar in both films? Is this one of those cheap references they throw in to stroke critics' egos for being knowledgeable enough to recognize it, thereby lending a superficial air of sophistication to a blockbuster film? The same sort of fancy-sounding but ultimately meaningless snob-bait they use to sell everything these days from cooking spice to cars?
Please don't think this meme isn't self critical. My spice rack is embarrassingly pretentious.
I think the answer is actually no. If they'd wanted to make and easy and obvious Kurbrick connection, it's a layup for 2001. Passengers
is a film about space travel after all. That they didn't go that route I think speaks to the homage having a deeper, more thoughtful connection. One worth exploring and not merely patting oneself on the back for noticing.
So explain the carpet? Why reference the bar from The Shining
but use a carpet from another scene? The completely boring and ungenerous answer is it that it's simply the most iconic. And due to its iconic nature it was easiest (or only) carpet the set designers could source. Or maybe it's CG (a lot of the film is). However, the more exciting answer, and the one that viewers of Room 237
may be thinking of already, is that this particular carpet has a space flight connection
of it's own.
Between the stranded protagonist, the solitude, and vast and lonely setting of many rooms, the thematic connections between Passengers
and The Shining
are already richer than any reference to 2001 would be. Then you throw in the odd mixed reference between the bar and the carpet that doesn't actually belong there, and you begin to wonder if the filmmakers had alternate explanations in mind. Conspiratorial minded people point to Danny's sweater, and the carpet's resemblance to the Apollo 11 launch pad
, as Kubrick tipping his hand to his involvement in faking the moon landing. Whether you believe that or not (I think it's a super fun theory myself), it does associate the carpet with something deceitful. And the plot of Passengers revolves around a big deception. Or is the explanation weirder still? Is there something paranormal going on? How much of the film is simply the protagonists imagination? It's a fun inclusion and does give those scenes a slightly uneasy atmosphere, thanks to whatever residual trauma The Shining left you with.
I will continue to champion this film. I find it scratches the same itch that a good Black Mirror
episode does while giving me more time for character and emotion. The central morality question is one I continue to think about. It is very ugly and disturbing in the "I can't say for sure I wouldn't do the same thing" vein. I think about it with different characters. I think about it if the characters were in opposite positions. I would love to see many variations on this film. I think about being in either characters shoes. Whether you make the virtuous choice or not, the consequences are awful in their own unique way. Could you live with either?
My primary gripe with this film, and the thing that will always keep it from being that rare 10/10, is that it does flinch now and then. There are times when it needs to linger but it cuts away. There are times when the direction is light but the moment demands something raw. It's kind of a tone thing... it only has a few notes when it really needs another octave or two for the optimal response. Thomas Newman's score is a great and distinct element in the film, a real enhancement, except for that final push at the end when it's looking for another gear and it isn't there. In short, it lacks any true wow
sequences that bring everything together in that magic way. That stuff that puts you over the edge. It's a "so close" kind of experience for me. I'll probably continue to watch it every now and then hoping something changes and it eventually gets there. I don't think it will but even so, I still like it a lot.