When It Comes to Facts and Truth, We’re All Just Along For the Ride

Let me start by saying, yes it is a bit strange to be going on about a slightly-better-than-average movie like Passengers. Surely there are more important topics! But Passengers and the discussion that has arisen around it does serve a useful base for a deeper discussion, something that was brought to my attention that seems to divide Left and Right: the nature of fact and truth.

Because there is a difference, albeit slight. Facts are things like ‘Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes’. The truth is that Donald Trump is President. Facts can be twisted to produce a truth, but enough facts show the truth. Facts rarely change, while the truth can evolve. A fact is one thing only, but the truth can be many things: the opposite of a lie, an internal sense of meaning, a theory like gravity. Truth is far more nebulous, and that is why it is both dangerous and liberating. True truth is the absence of lies and the conglomeration of facts.

I found this great quote to illustrate my point:

Facts are notes and lyrics on sheet music. Truth is what the singer gives to the listener when she’s brave enough to open up and sing from her heart.

My review of Passengers shows that it is a story about revealing truths. Specifically, mending lies. Lies are problems that hurt us at our core, and can have cascading effects on our lives. This reading of the movie is close to the truth. But of course, Mel Campbell doesn’t think so.

I can’t tell if she has read my review and is referring to the theme of the movie, or my use of the word truth in my tweet (I think the latter). Either way, she immediately stumbles over herself.

First, it’s more often the Left who deploy emotional truths. That picture of a drowned child on the beach carries more weight than the realities of a massive refugee influx. In fact, since I quit hanging around in Leftist circles, I’ve never seen such use of statistics, studies, quotes, sources and more. Leftists on Twitter just tend to ‘YASS QUEEN’ everyone else’s opinion pieces. The Alt Right pride themselves on discovering the truth by looking at the facts.

The article she links to doesn’t back her up at all. It starts by detailing the rise of statistics, how they are fallible, and the way they have been used for the nation state. It then goes on to describe Big Data and how its future is uncertain in how it will used. Of course, we all know that statistics like GDP are faulty, and that if you dig deeper you find that the Australian economy is propped up by massive immigration, so much that the equivalent of a new Melbourne will have to be built in the next 10 years, and that as a result our infrastructure will not keep up (never mind the cultural repercussions). The scariness of Big Data points towards either accelerationism, or a return to high trust nation states. I know what I would prefer. The article reads like propaganda passed off as information, and is itself guilty of twisting facts to produce an emotional outcome.

But Mel finally undoes herself in that last Tweet. Now, I imagine she is not in favour of Trump, maybe even thinks he didn’t deserve to win. Well, he persuaded the American people. That’s what subjectivity gets you: democracy. You can’t espouse an adherence to facts and reject emotional truth and then turn around and say, ‘Everything is subjective, it just comes down to how you say it’. But some things are definitely closer to the truth than others.

As a film, Passengers is strong. It’s well plotted with a nice pace, has smooth editing and a logically consistent story. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent. It’s a bit paint by numbers at times, but we can forgive it that. This all rates the film for what it is and how it is made. My judgement is based on a deeper level of story, one of myth and archetypes. Writers today only focus on references and ideologies, both of which are inherently shallow.

Speaking of references, let’s count them:

  • King Arthur
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Titanic
    • A stretch.
  • La La Land
    • Literally just another movie she would have watched because it came out at the same time, and so has zero bearing beyond emotions (in this case sensory memory).
  • The Shining
    • This is a big stretch. Thematically the movies are not very similar, beyond some superficial idea of loneliness. Plus, it’s very easy to find a picture of a bartender wearing the same uniform.

  • Alien
  • Elysium
  • Prometheus
    • These three were used for a small rant about the autodoc which led absolutely nowhere.
  • WALL-E
    • The third act merely ‘reminded’ the reviewer of the children’s movie, so again an irrelevant point to add to the word count. No deeper level analysis.

To judge a movie on its own merits can be hard, as it requires some original thought. And I do mean original, since it often feels the millennial crowd of game, book and movie critics reviewers just feed off each other. Here are some I found and the ‘facts’ they discuss:

Most audiences going in off the back of the trailer would assume it’s a meet-cute movie that tilts into a lovers’ fight for survival together. As Aurora says, “You die, I die”.

Except that’s not really how it plays out.

That is exactly how it plays out, except with added nuance and depth, which the reviewer clearly missed.

This escalates into obsessively watching her introductory video, with the suggestion the journey is also a great big dating scenario to repopulate the new planet.

Not even close. Calm your emotions and try to write a balanced review.

Lawrence Fishburne shows up momentarily as a senior crew member also jolted out of his deep sleep who functions merely as a plot device to help the white folks open doors before being dispensed with swiftly.

*yawn* it’s racist too, OK, sure thing.

Further compounding that idiocy, the facility only has one super-duper do-it-all operating table, an idea Spaihts clearly recycled for Prometheus before Passengers was resuscitated.

Unlike Mel, this retard didn’t bother to look up TV Tropes.

So far, I’ve seen the failing of Passengers be explained in a number of ways: One, as an example of the problems of relying on so-called A List actors to bring in the audiences without a recognizable brand name in the title, which could have some truth. The staggering cost of the project – $150m after its original budget was set at $90m – may not have helped, but most infuriatingly, I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence’s salary – $20m, which is pretty much par for the course with major male stars – blamed for the box office numbers.

ummsweetie

That’s some good fact manipulation.

Passengers missed its projected $50m opening week by a sizeable margin, and will probably be written off as a flop by current industry standards (films generally need to make two and a half times their budget to break even). Yet there’s been little discussion of the reasons why it will underperform, and the specific gender dynamics at play, both in terms of economics and storytelling. Clearly the reviews and the reveal of that creepy twist played a part in audiences rejecting the film, but there doesn’t seem to be much mainstream industry discussion on why those audiences said no, as noted by Abigail Nussbaum.

There is literally no evidence provided that women – specifically – deigned not to watch the movie. Not even an anecdote or two. Indeed, since that is the argument being made, you would think providing some evidence, or indeed good counter-evidence to the prevailing idea, would be necessary. But facts are for losers, and what matters is winning by insisting on an emotional truth: that women turned away in droves from Passengers because it’s rapey. Not only are no facts provided to lead to that truth, but the writer provides alternative facts to try to make a point

As long as Hollywood views the Default Viewer of its movies as a cishet white guy aged between 18 and 49, the same films and the same problems will keep coming back to our screens.

The assumption that this is what all movie marketing people sit around thinking is beyond naive. It’s wilfully ignorant. It’s propaganda.

Aurora suggests that the corporation has sold Jim a false romantic fantasy of settler life. Frustratingly, the irony that Jim is already in the grip of a romantic fantasy is never fully articulated.

Back to Mel’s review, she misses the point completely here. First, dismissing Jim’s idea as false is disingenuous. Of course a feminist would think the hard work of setting up a colony is a ludicrous male fantasy, but she even glosses over the reason why Aurora is there. The female motive is superficial: a year long stay for writing inspiration, a chance to see the future. Now, tell me again which goal is a romantic fantasy? Jim is there to teach Aurora how to be a better person. And he succeeds.

At the nadir of a yearlong descent into existential despair (signified by an extremely bushy Beard of Sorrow), too craven even to kill himself in the ship’s spacewalk airlock, Jim stumbles across a sleeping passenger, a journalist named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).

Did I mention making fun of male suicide?

suicideratesarefunny

But the film can’t quite nail a shift into psychological horror, or recast Jim as a sinister stalker antagonist.

So instead of appreciating an original story and a science fiction movie that doesn’t dissolve into horror Mel would prefer that her worst nightmares are proven true, that Jim is just a psychopath rather than a conflicted man who just wants to do what’s best. Again, judging something for what it is not seems dishonest.

Jim’s and Aurora’s second-act romance is shown to be as artificial and entropic as their spaceship – doomed to break down, then explode. And it tries to redeem their connection by affirming their shared, ‘natural’ humanity. The film ends on a hopeful note; but ultimately Passengers can’t stay the course of its own cascading errors.

Rather than properly analyse the ending and the subtext, she glibly passes over it, probably because she’d spent so much time mentioning other movies and how awful men are. She doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that both Jim and Aurora’s relationship and the ship are mended by getting to the heart of the matter. That is to say, finding out the truth.

And of course, in all the reviews I have read, I have not actually seen anyone discuss the fact that the marketing line ‘There is a reason they woke up’ works. There is a reason, for if Jim had not woken Aurora, the entire ship would have exploded, killing every person on board. Fate (more commonly known as coincidence) is just as good a reason as any. And often truth is more important than facts.

Passengers is a Great Red Pill Flick

Spoilers: most of the plot is discussed.

I often worry that I am far too intellectually informed by what I have recently consumed. In the current case I have been listening to a lot of Jordan B Peterson. Hence, my reading of Passengers is something I would hope he would also see.

Here’s the thing. Once you are opened up to a truth you begin to see it everywhere. Jordan would probably take issue with this, as it is a key problem with ideological thinking. SJWs tend to see the world through a very specific lens, as does everyone with a particularly stringent political inclination. You can’t let yourself be constrained by a narrow way of thinking. So I reconcile this expanding my mind and allowing myself to finally see reality.

Peterson has great stuff to say about stories.

This is where Passengers comes in. Abigail Nussbaum represents everything wrong with SJWs in SFF (even if I agree with her assertion regarding Westworld being a show about itself). Overly analytical and one-sided. Massive tweetstorms about l’issue du jour. Her take on Passengers is one driven purely by ideology, one that barely judges the film for what it is, but rather for what it could be and what outside influences affect it or that it affects. The premise of the movie is that Chris Pratt’s character (Jim) accidentally wakes from his cryosleep and after about 1 year and 3 months he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence’s character (Aurora), but tells her it was also a malfunction (not a spoiler since it happens fairly early on). The mere fact that it is a man going after a woman, rather than a gay romance or having the gender roles reversed, is enough for Abigail to class Jim as a murdering, rapey asshole. Both these alternatives are ideological fantasies, and the assertion is simply false. I’m not going to pretend that Passengers is an amazing film (Arrival is the sci fi pick of the moment) but it is a deeply radical story, and that is because it’s a biblical story.

Apparently we need new stories for a new age. That is why people like Abigail insist on new narratives that up-end archetypes. However, there is a reason these are archetypes, and that is that these stories are recognisable to 99.99% of humans (that is, before you get snarky, 99.99% of humans that have ever lived). Man has existential crisis. Woman saves man from nihilist void. Man does not admit truth, breaks woman’s heart. Differences are eventually reconciled with re-birthing of man. Characters live happily ever after in a garden of Eden. That is not the story that Abigail – and many reviewers – saw. By the very fact that two different ideologies present two different stories, that tells you that it is not a clear-cut case. One group wants stories that break the mould; one group wants stories that tell the truth. But both want stories that confirm their beliefs.

Let’s look at Jim’s character. Apparently the plot is ‘rapey’ because Jim’s character is a massive creep who forces Aurora to become his lover. This is false. First, the plot acknowledges that the act of waking someone up just so that you can have a companion is despicable. Jim agonises over it. A lot of time is spent on the rage that Aurora rightly has (in particular, the scene where she wakes him by beating him and the scene where he tries talking to her over the speaker but she yells at him were both well nuanced). Another character later on is disgusted by it. Even the android knows it is wrong. But as Jordan Peterson says, you have to put yourselves in their shoes. Most people would have been Nazis if they were German in the 1930s. Most people would be tempted to wake someone up if they were caught alone on a spaceship and were doomed to die, especially if you almost killed yourself and were saved by a beautiful woman. Yes it’s wrong, but do not be so quick to judge. In addition, exceptions do not break rules. One asshole act does not make you an asshole. Nothing else Jim does is the act of an asshole. Indeed, calling Jim a murdery rapist devalues the actual evil of murderers and rapists. He’s a good character who makes a terrible choice. Sounds like a good point of conflict for a solid plot, no?

But like I said, these SJW critics only criticise ideology and external factors, never the actual aesthetics of media. A story like this would never work if it were a man waking up another man, not if the roles were switched. First, only a handful of people want to see an abnormal romance such as two men engaging in zero-g intercourse. And if it were a ‘bromance’ well, a lot of tension would be lost. Second, I find it highly unlikely that a female would be that enamoured with a man to wake him. I think if that happened it would be a totally different movie, and much more likely to be go towards psych-thriller territory.

Let’s face it, romance is inherit in human understanding and history. A man trying to win over a woman is a quintessential set-up, and can be endlessly re-engineered. Think When Harry Met Sally as a classic with a good ‘twist’. Here, we have the story transplanted to a spaceship, with a crucial and quite novel plot development. Usually a man does hurt a woman in someway, and then he has to win her back. In this movie, he basically kills her. But not quite. It’s… complicated. Wow! What a twist! The story works, and Passengers handles it with grace.

All this talk makes it sound quite run-of-the-mill. Wrong again. Sure, it’s a pretty straightforward romance, but from a sci fi angle it’s unique. Think about it. Most science fiction in film is grim, even nihilistic. Event Horizon, Sunshine, Infini and Alien are all horror-thrillers set in space. Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Avatar and Star Wars are war movies where the cosmos is the battlefield. These movies indulge our darkest recesses. But Passengers is a mostly wholesome romance, something you don’t see often in this aesthetic genre. The special effects are mesmerising, especially the space walk and the slingshot around the sun (makes me think a TV mini-series based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora would be superb). I found the characters had chemistry, and Jennifer Lawrence once again proves she has immense talent (overall I think she outshines Chris Pratt). Laurence Fishburne was a bit flat, but Michael Sheen was fantastic as the android bartender.The editing was also great. I’ve been lamenting some terrible editing recently, but Passengers kept the whole thing moving smoothly. If anything this is one of the best original sci fi screenplays in recent history.

Some of you may be wondering how any of this makes it a great red pill movie. I’ve already been over it a bit, but let’s go deeper. Jim wakes up early and has to resign himself to dying before they reach their destination, a new world where he plans to help the colony with his engineering skills. Unfortunately, the realisation that he will die pushes him to indulge in sin, playing games, eating luxuriously and drinking to excess. This culminates in an attempted suicide, something all too common for young men without hope. But, miraculously, a beautiful woman saves him. It’s a sign. He learns her history – she’s a journalist and writer – and he falls in love. He makes the very painful decision to wake her up (the android barman, Arthur, acts as his conscience) and decides to lie by omission. He never makes any overt advances until a good deal of time has passed, and he begins to woo her with expensive dinners, personalised gifts and handpicked flowers. I mean, if you’re the last two people on earth, you’re probably going to fall in love with each other, right? Finally he takes her on a space walk – his previous space walk had resulted in him contemplating death – and this pushes her towards him (see the symmetry). They enjoy each other for almost a year, falling deeply in love and become resigned to their fate. All sounds rosy so far.

During this time Aurora shows herself to be a typically modern woman. She’s a liberal arts student (journalist/writer) from a famous and rich background. She is skeptical of the company, Homestead, which organises these colonising missions, saying that they are only there to make a buck. Jim disagrees: he sees this capitalism as an opportunity to reach for the stars. She only plans to visit the colony for a year before returning to the future; he wants to start a new life and help humanity. In this time he also encourages her to write, something which she had been struggling with (wow, he sure sounds like a murderous, asshole rapist). Disaster strikes: as Jim prepares to propose, Arthur reveals the truth to Aurora. Arthur is actually the most fascinating character, as the whole time Aurora and Jim say things like ‘you wouldn’t understand, you’re not human’. Au contraire, mes amis. Arthur is more than human. His revelation is the crux of the movie: the nature of truth. Only by telling the truth can we find true meaning. Only be throwing away the danger of lies can we truly live. We lie to ourselves, and we lie to others, and all it brings is suffering.

So now we come to the final act. A crew member wakes up, but quickly dies. He judges Jim, but cannot reconcile Aurora. Essentially, she has to deal with it now. But the crew member discovers that something is wrong with the ship. The race is on to mend the dying vessel, and Jim and Aurora must help each other. The problem reveals itself: a tiny meteor has penetrated to the very core, disturbing the reactor and setting off a cascading failure. Sounds like a metaphor? It is. This tiny meteor (a lie) damages the core (the heart) and sets off a never-ending chain of events. The core problem must be fixed so the ship can be restored (people can love each other again). It’s endlessly elegant. Both Aurora and Jim work together to fix the problem and they do, but Jim sacrifices himself in the process (as he dies he says, ‘I would have built a home for you.’ *sob*). At one point Aurora implores Jim to not kill himself for her. Jim stoically reminds her that there are 5000 other living souls on the ship. He has no choice. Honestly, I teared up a bit at this point. In the end, he is reborn (man as Christ) with the help of Aurora, who realised that she can’t live without him. That year together was true love. In the denouement, Jim tells Aurora in a final act of recompense that he has now found a way for her to go back to sleep.

She refuses. Together they create a literal garden of Eden for the other passengers to discover when they wake up. It’s beautiful. A true story of love and sacrifice. There are plenty of juicy metaphors too – ‘passengers on this thing called life’ for one. If you are looking for healthy entertainment, Passengers delivers.

Unfortunately I don’t think it will be that financially successful. You need to be an animated children’s film or a massive superhero franchise to do well these days. Talking about money though, Abigail compares the movie to the Ghostbusters drama. She implores that real women have turned away from Passengers because it is ‘rapey’, whereas men turning away from Ghostbusters was all hype.

Let’s do the math:

Ghostbusters Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $128,350,574        56.0%

+ Foreign:            $100,796,935        44.0%

= Worldwide:     $229,147,509

Movie Budget + Marketing: 288,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $46,018,755

(#2 rank, 3,963 theaters, $11,612 average)

% of Total Gross:              35.9%

Widest Release: 3,963 theaters

Close Date:         November 10, 2016

In Release:          119 days / 17 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

229,147,509/288,000,000 = 79.56%

 

Passengers Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $94,533,188              35.1%

+ Foreign:            $175,100,000          64.9%

= Worldwide:     $269,633,188

Movie Budget + Marketing: 220,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $14,869,736

(#3 rank, 3,478 theaters, $4,275 average)

% of Total Gross:             15.7%

Widest Release: 3,478 theaters

In Release: 33 days / 4.7 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

269,633,188/220,000,000 = 122.50%

So really Passengers isn’t performing badly. And given Ghostbusters had franchise power behind it, and massive marketing, it doesn’t paint a great picture. I think people really did turn away from Ghostbusters, and I really do think people don’t turn out for original screenplays in large enough numbers. Painting Passengers in a falsely negative light does it a great disservice, especially since it should be commended. The Rotten Tomato score is 30%, but the safe assumption is that the negativity is from SJW ideology. The IMDB score is just over 7/10, not amazing, but also not the 5/10 that Ghostbusters has. Don’t you just hate it when facts and figures jar with your ideological beliefs?

The majority of stories all speak to the heart of humanity. As painful as it is, most people are heterosexual. Most people like a story about ‘meaning’, ‘truth’ and finding fulfillment in one’s life. You might think it’s bland, but that’s just those ideology-tinted glasses doing all the work for you. Stories repeat, and the resonate.

I said that this is a ‘red pill’ movie, but it’s much more traditionalist than that. This is Neoreaction in all its glory: traditional values, a Christian narrative AND it’s set in a hyper-capitalistic future. What more could you want? At first I worried that I was blinded by what I wanted to see, but as I have shown this movie truly does cover exactly the same ground as what Jordan Peterson talks about. It proves his points. These stories are all-encompassing, almost hereditary. In other words, natural.