Queervision: Passengers (2008)

First up on Queervision is Passengers (2008), a movie that somebody (probably the lead actors) paid hush money for so it will quietly disappear into the cheap section of your local video rental store. As much as I luuuuuuuuuurve You Know Who, I won’t act like this is cinematic gold, OK? But it ain’t her fault. In fact, the actors are completely blameless.

The blame lies squarely on the writer and director, who both seem to believe that cock is the answer. What happens to us after we die? Cock. What will help me overcome my fear of life? Cock. Are aliens watching us? Cock. What’s the best way for a therapist to relate to her patients? Cock. What’s the last digit of pi? Cock. What’s 2 + 2? Cock. With that cock-centric attitude, the least they could do is put some gay porn in this movie. At least that would make my internet husband Neo Prodigy happy.

But our focus here is not pointing out the fucked up gender shit going on in this movie (these two sites do that quite nicely). We’re gonna instead focus on the slivers of queerness this movie lends itself to (slivers that would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than what we got).

Why would I choose to queer this sleeper bomb instead of some of My Main Girl’s more successful (both financially and artistically) films? Because queering The Devil Wears Prada, Bride Wars (OMFG! SO FUCKING GAY!!!) and Havoc (aka Gangbanging Dykes Smoking Crack) would be too fucking easy. Even Alice in Wonderland could be queered without breaking a sweat.

Passengers is a bit tougher to crack because it has a main character who trades in her batteries for some flesh n’ blood dick and thus could possibly be straight. Not that I’m complaining, but considering that the dude has “date rape” and “domestic violence” written on giant red flags that follow him everywhere, she shoulda just gone with more Duracell and another vibrator. Or, in Queervision terms, a Feeldoe, harness, and Shannon (Clea DuVall – Remember Graham from But I’m a Cheerleader? Exactly. You see where I’m going with this).

If you look at what the characters actually do and where the emotional center of the story is, you’ll notice something very interesting: that the relationship between Claire and Eric is neither the most important nor the most meaningful in the film. It’s actually more like a diversion, something that feels tacked on to make it obvious how much Claire is growing as a character (which it takes up too much time doing – hence why it irritates the shit out of me) and to prove that she’s neither asexual nor gay (cue me rolling my eyes). The major conflicts and unresolved issues have to do with Claire’s attempts to help the survivors of the plane crash and her estranged relationship with her sister Emma.

Both of these issues converge in Claire’s interactions with Shannon, one of the survivors. Of all the survivors, she’s the only one who openly challenges Claire’s fitness to help them. Until her pivotal moment, she confronts and challenges Claire every step of the way, but there is more than that going on with her. Beneath her pensive demeanor are hints of vulnerability: a desire to trust battling a fear of – what? abandonment? betrayal? something else she doesn’t let on?

She obviously doesn’t hate Claire, even as she doubts her competence and her motives. You would think that once she got the feeling that Claire wasn’t up to the task of helping her get past this shit, she’d be the first one to say, “Fuck this” and stop showing up. But she actually sticks around the longest of all the patients. What’s up with that? Obviously, there’s something about Claire that compels her to return despite her misgivings. The fact that she looks really cute with her hair down and that plunging neckline, perhaps?

Not like Shannon is alone with the Things That Make You Go Hmmm. Claire herself is particularly solicitous toward Shannon. Oh, she asks the typical therapist questions: How are you feeling? Are you sleeping well? Blahblahblah. But the camera always seems to make sure to go to Shannon whenever she says this, and when she directs the words toward Shannon, her clinical mask slips, revealing a sliver of warmth and genuine human connection that’s missing with her relationship with her other patients – including the one she’s fucking.

Claire also goes out of her way to take care of Shannon, even going so far as to prescribe medication for her (a serious breach of protocol and professionalism – but not as big a breach as fucking your patient), which she does for no one else – including the dude she’s fucking. Although she makes house calls for Eric, that is only at his insistence, not something she initiates herself. With Shannon, she actually initiates the caregiving and seems genuinely upset when it’s rejected.

But the real kicker comes near the end, when things start coming to a head. In the final session Shannon is waiting on Claire when the shit starts to go down. You don’t do that for someone if you don’t give a shit or if you actively dislike them (unless it’s to administer an ass whupping). When Claire arrives to find a panicking Shannon, there is more intensity and urgency to her behavior than she shows toward any other person in the film – including the dude she’s fucking.

It’s revealed in how Claire touches Shannon. While she pets Eric more or less constantly, there’s an air of, “I’m doing this because it’s expected of me in my role as love interest” about it. There’s a deliberateness to her touch that rings false. But in the brief moments Claire shares with Shannon, there’s an intimacy to how she reaches for her and laces their fingers together without seeming to think about it. There’s a tenderness to how she folds part of a blanket over Shannon and an awkwardness when she awakens her instead. There’s a way she asks, “How are you feeling?” that sounds more like a caress than a polite greeting. And there’s the gentle probing into Shannon’s past that was completely lacking with any other character in the movie – including the dude she’s fucking. The empathy she displays – she almost cries herself – when she affirms Shannon’s feelings instead of dismisses or denies them (like she does with the other patients – including the one she’s fucking). The way she gently caresses Shannon’s face without a hint of premeditation or self-consciousness. Her steady, direct gaze when she listens and speaks that’s missing from her interactions with the other characters – including the dude she’s fucking. The genuine anguish on her face when Shannon disappears.

Claire expresses a more nuanced range of emotions with Shannon in three minutes than she expresses with Eric throughout the whole fucking movie.

For those of us who are fans of shoujo-ai, these women may as well have been proclaiming their deep and abiding love from the rooftops.

13 thoughts on “Queervision: Passengers (2008)

  1. You know what’s really fucked up. Studios could release queer versions of these flicks and would make so much bank.

      • I’ve heard nothing but good things about that film. I see I’m gonna have to check it out. Of course I’m gonna need a Valium because I heard that movie is mindfucking.

        • Don’t eat nothing either. A bit of the body horror gets a lil’ too close to home. And they ought to say something about eating disorder triggers too.

      • I keep hearing about it. Perhaps I should discard my normal aversion to sitting still and watching anything for more than 15 minutes and give it a try.

  2. But back to Passengers. If you got Netflix or access to a video rental store, check it out. It is NOT cinematic gold, but you’ll see what I mean.

    But my main question is: Why don’t more filmmakers go for the queer when it comes to female characters?

    • My guess is that it’s for the same reason they go for the cis straight white audience.

      They want to make money and “appeal” to “everyone” ie the status quo.

      Even though any fucking idiot knows that there is so much untapped dollars with marginalized audiences.

        • The trouble is that if there were lesbians in romcoms then quite likely the story would be about how this man magically converts her to straightdom with the power of his mighty cock. Well that or it’d devolve into him getting two women for the price of one.

          I think Imagine Me & You is a rom com where the women end up together. I’ve not seen it though, can’t comment on the quality and tend to avoid the romcom genre like the plague.

          One day what we’re going to get though is a rom com where the woman’s ‘pet gay’, and the guy’s ‘lesbian’ girlfriend team up and… and… fire!!! BURNING!!!! REVENGE!!!!!

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