“I always love having characters make big decisions that they’re not supposed to make,” says director Morten Tyldum. That’s an understatement when describing his new film Passengers, in which Chris Pratt is one of five thousand sleeping colonists cruising towards a new world on a transport ship. When a problem on the ship leads to Pratt’s character being awakened early, he finds himself alone, with no way to go back into long-term sleep, for a journey that has decades left to go.
Eventually he starts hoping for company, and since the other actor on the poster is Jennifer Lawrence, you can get an idea of the decision he makes.
With that basic story driving the movie, it should come as no surprise that #SonyPictures Passengers has a more creepy and strange vibe than some of the romance-oriented trailers have sold. As a shorthand to communicate some of the story’s skewed events, Tyldum took inspiration from a master director: Stanley Kubrick, and particularly Kubrick’s film The Shining.
As Pratt’s character roams the ship on which he is effectively stranded, he finds one companion: a robot bartender in an opulent art-deco bar that fans of The Shining will find very familiar. And, just as Jack Torrence isn’t in a particularly sound state of mind when he hangs with the very formal bartender in The Shining, Pratt’s character is also facing tough situations when he accepts drinks from the robot played by Michael Sheen.
Tyldum explains his thinking in making the bar and its keeper an explicit reference to Kubrick’s horror of isolation and madness.
“The most important thing between Chris and the bartender is: what choice should Chris make? It descends into some sort of madness which is happening to him at this time.” Which is to say, Pratt’s character is contemplating that big decision he’s not supposed to make, and conversations with the bartender don’t exactly dissuade him.
“Of course, Michael Sheen’s character,” Tyldum cautions, “is very different than the one in The Shining.” The director says the reference is more about “Kubrick’s use of space, and how important surroundings and locations are in his films.”
Indeed, the sets used for Passengers were gigantic. “Our biggest set,” Tyldum says, ”didn’t fit in the largest stage [at Pinewood Studios, in Atlanta] so we tore down the wall between two stages and used two stages to build on.” That epic space, he explains, “creates a feeling of solitude with only two actors alone in this huge set. it does something to you.”
So as Pratt’s character is talking to his own bartender, yeah, maybe he’s already gone at least partially around the bend, and that visual homage to Kubrick’s movie helps clue the audience in right off the bat. Just in case the overall situation isn’t clear, even the small details help sell that situation. Tyldum notes that “Michael Sheen’s jacket, for instance, is the same jacket as the bartender in The Shining.”
Passengers opens on December 21.