After a horrific plane crash, a young therapist, Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway), is assigned by her mentor (Andre Braugher) to counsel the flight's five remaining passengers. Claire's difficulties in taking on such an assignment are made all the more complex when she's confronted by Eric (Patrick Wilson), a passenger who refuses her help and instead uses the crash as an excuse to break the rules and openly court her. As Claire struggles to maintain a professional distance from Eric, her other patients struggle with recollections of the accident which are at odds with the airline's official explanation. After their memories of a possible mid-air explosion surface, the passengers begin mysteriously disappearing, and Claire suspects the airline is behind it. Determined to uncover the truth, Claire is drawn deeper into a conspiracy--and deeper into a relationship with Eric--that will soon collide in an explosive twist of fate.
Mandate Pictures' thriller Passengers stars Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, Brokeback Mountain) and is directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Nine Lives) from a screenplay by Ronnie Christensen.
ABOUT THE STORY
A late night phone call and fire on the distant horizon tell therapist Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway) she'd better get to the hospital. A passenger plane has just gone down and she's needed to counsel those who miraculously walked away from the crash. Waiting for her at the hospital is Perry Jackson (Andre Braugher), a childhood teacher who has since taken on the role of Claire's mentor, and his expectation that she turn her skills treating children with post-traumatic stress disorder to the handful of adults now experiencing the same. Claire balks at Perry's suggestion--claims she's not up to the task--but Perry insists it's time for Claire to "stretch out of that comfort zone" of hers and progress professionally.
Before sending her into battle, Perry warns Claire one patient in particular "will require a bit more work." This is Eric Clark (Patrick Wilson), and, while the others are in obvious states of shock, he's euphoric. He greets Claire's offer of assistance with sarcasm but then inquires--somewhat mischievously--if she makes house calls. The question at first throws Claire off her game but she quickly recovers: she agrees to meet Eric at his home, privately convinced he'll agree to counseling once she's made contact again.
After organizing a group session for the passengers, Claire returns to her apartment. At first glance it appears hers is a well-organized life, but a closer look reveals the disorder masked within: unread newspapers are piled up on the kitchen counter, mail has accumulated on the dining table and, as her neighbor Toni (Dianne Wiest) arrives to announce, Claire has left her clothes in the communal dryer. Toni's attempts at conversation are averted by Claire, a theme repeated when Claire leaves a jumbled, hesitant telephone message for her sister, Emma, the distance between the sisters seemingly unbridgeable.
"Claire has a lot of things keeping her back," explains director Rodrigo Garcia. "She has unresolved issues with her sister, she's not doing the work as a doctor that she should be doing, and she has never engaged on a personal level in a risky way." Writer Ronnie Christensen agrees, comparing Claire to a "beautiful flower that hasn't blossomed yet. She is someone who has thought herself into a box. She doesn't think outside of that, she doesn't go after the things she wants or loves in life. Claire is in a box and she needs somebody to help her out of it."
Though Claire doesn't know it yet, that someone will be Eric. Contrary to his earlier assertions, Eric is deeply troubled by the crash. Awakened abruptly by a nightmare, Eric's instinct is to run, literally, as fast as he can, the pain in his body proof that he's alive. As Eric runs like a madman through the streets, a dog barks erratically at him, an elderly man watches intently, and the city hums on, oblivious.
Later, as promised, Claire pays a professional visit at Eric's townhouse. Eric announces he has quit his job as VP of a brokerage firm and is reevaluating his priorities. Recognizing this common response to tragedy, Claire tries to dig deeper but her valiant efforts are thwarted at every turn: a casual touch of her hair here, a compliment there, an invitation to be intimate poorly disguised as a joke. Eric is a paradox: he's determined not to accept counseling, determined to remain separate from the other passengers, yet desperate to connect to something tangible, meaningful, to connect to Claire.
That Eric needs to reconnect is reflected in his reassessment of his former life. As Eric tells Claire, says Patrick Wilson, "Everything before was about not communicating. Eric has all these gadgets--phones, instant-messengers, computers--allegedly designed to keep him connected but which he has suddenly realized keep him away from people. His is a very closed-off world."
"Eric has been very successful professionally," adds director Garcia, "but has been caught in that rut of doing well, making money, buying toys. There's something of the successful boy who hasn't grown into a man. After the crash, he wants to clean things up." But Eric is still that boy: he denies he's in pain and his attempt at reconnecting is inappropriate, a violation of Claire's professional ethics.
And, true to his promise, Eric was absent earlier that morning when Claire lead the first group session. In attendance was thirty-something Dean (Ryan Robbins), wracked with shame over his perceived cowardice; twenty-ish Shannon (Clea DuVall), pretty and full of youthful bravado; Norman (Don Thompson), a blustery, nervous man in his fifties; and Janice (Chelah Horsdal), a decade younger than Norman and twice as reluctant to speak. As the group tried to recollect the events that lead up to the crash, outside the window Claire noticed another, uninvited guest: a tall, blonde man in an old, dirty overcoat, watching intently from among the bushes, who moved on silently when Claire questioned his presence.
Mysterious figures appear to be watching the passengers, and when Claire meets up with Jed Arkin (David Morse), a representative of the airline, it's clear he has something to hide. He dismisses any talk of an explosion--the official position is "pilot error"--and quickly ends their conversation. Then later, while at the library, Claire is followed by a woman who first appeared at the hospital after the crash. Is there a link? Is the airline keeping tabs on those who might talk?
David Morse insists there isn't any conspiracy, but then he would, wouldn't he? "Arkin represents the airline," says Morse of his character, "and their rigid point of view about what happened. Claire believes there's something more but he completely denies it: her patients have been through trauma; nutty things are coming into their heads. Arkin is pretty certain he knows what happened on that plane."
The mystery deepens when Dean is inexplicably absent from the next group session, then deepens yet again when afterwards Norman informs Claire the tall, blonde man earlier seen lurking outside is following him. Norman is convinced the man is from the airline, monitoring the passengers because of an earlier accident that involved a mechanical malfunction. Another incident could sink them, Norman argues, and a corporation as large as this is "capable of anything to save their asses." Claire assures Norman it's just paranoia, a heightened state of post-traumatic vulnerability, but inwardly she's on edge.
Claire's stress is intensified when she next visits Eric. He's still in denial but his actions speak to the contrary: he's taken up painting, the mural on the wall emerging subliminally, he's hounded by a barking dog only he can hear, and, most frightening of all, his inner turmoil is punctuated by impetuous, danger acts: darting out into traffic without warning and scaring the hell out of Claire. And through it all Eric remains annoyingly aloof and charmingly forward, continually testing Claire's boundaries, drawing out the shared attraction he knows she feels. "Much to her utter dismay," confesses Anne Hathaway, "Claire is developing romantic feelings for Eric. So now she's confronted with ethical issues she never anticipated. Suddenly she has to deal with her ambition and her brains challenging her heart. Which is going to rule her?"
Director Rodrigo Garcia sees in Eric "a single package" that confronts both Claire's professional and personal limitations. "Claire is faced with the dilemma of how to help someone who doesn't want to be a patient and who, at the same time, is openly courting her. Eric challenges Claire professionally, because he clearly needs help, and personally because she's always been too cautious, too scared to get messy in a relationship. Eric comes as a single package: difficult patient and difficult love interest."
Anne Hathaway admits the chemistry between Claire and Eric was easy to create. "Patrick and I had an easy rapport from the first rehearsal," recalls Hathaway fondly. "He's really down-to-earth, a wonderful person. I felt so comfortable with him off-camera and I think that comfort translated into the scenes. I felt I could trust him at every turn. And he's the most gorgeous man, with everything on the outside mirrored within. He's sublime."
Wilson returns the compliment, calling Hathaway a woman with "this rare gift of being strong and smart and beautiful. And she's funny. Anne's becoming bigger by the day; there's a lot of pressure yet she takes everything in stride."
Unlike her character. Claire flees from Eric and heads for home, for sanctuary from her struggles. Though troubled by Emma's continuing silence, Claire finds a moment of respite with Toni. Played by the inimitable Dianne Wiest, who brings a "vibrancy" to an otherwise small role, Toni's relaxed, happy demeanor craftily draws Claire into the elder woman's confidence. "Sometimes," explains producer Keri Selig, "you'll tell a stranger things you wouldn't tell your best friend because you think you'll never see them again. Claire feels free with Toni, so Toni starts asking questions, drawing Claire in, subtly guiding her." Claire opens up about the conflict with Eric, and is surprised when Toni warns of opportunities lost to cowardice. "Spread your wings, Claire," she advises, "life is a moment."
Toni's words become flesh when Claire next sees Eric, his earlier euphoria replaced by a determination to take new risks, to experience life in all its richness. He invites Claire for an exhilarating ride on his new motorbike--sans helmets--then commandeers a stranger's boat for a moonlight sail and nude swim. Eric is, says Patrick Wilson, "just reaching for life. He's trying to put it all together. Whenever someone is faced with death, if you get another chance to live you want to live to the fullest. Eric doesn't want to take anything for granted anymore. He wants to value what's important to him, to live his life as passionately as he can. Because your time here is short."
Eric's enthusiasm proves infectious. Claire's rebuffs ring more and more hollow until she finally submits to her desires. "I think of Eric as Claire's liberator," muses Anne Hathaway. "Claire is in a cage where the door was always open but she never realized it; she was always just flying around inside. Eric shows her there's a whole world outside of that very limited space she's contained herself in. He really pushes her buttons, pushes the envelope until she finally flies outside her comfort zone."
Claire awakens the next morning a little regretful, her regret quickly turning to embarrassment when Arkin surprises her outside Eric's door. Is Arkin following her? Claire turns to Perry for help but talk of a conspiracy doesn't interest him. He's more interested in how Claire is doing, how her patients are faring, how Eric is coping. Claire confesses Eric has become her lover yet, to her surprise, Perry doesn't chastise her; instead, he suggests Eric has come to fill a void.
Andre Braugher, who plays Perry, explains that his character is firstly Claire's mentor and "a mentor leads you from that place where you think you know everything to the point where you're willing to really dig down and become what's necessary to be great. Perry has always seen a tremendous promise in Claire that just needed a catalyst; that's why he made her the head therapist for the crash. And now he's trying to tell her she's been squandering her life; that the paralysis that characterized her relationships in the past can't be allowed to continue. Patrick's character is a part of that, too, leading Claire to this realization."
But while Perry has confidence in Claire's abilities, not everyone is so supportive, Shannon in particular. "Shannon thinks Claire is an idiot," explains Clea DuVall. "How can this little girl possibly help me?, she thinks. Besides, Shannon doesn't think she needs help, that everything is fine." Shannon questions Claire's credentials, criticizes her techniques, aims sarcastic comments in Claire's direction, yet continues attending the sessions, subconsciously in need of closure. "And then slowly," adds DuVall, "the effect of the crash on her emerges and Shannon just slowly degrades emotionally through the film."
The foil that Shannon provides is a small but important role that, in lesser hands, might appear cliché. "We really had to have Clea," says producer Julie Lynn, "because Shannon is such a difficult role. Shannon doesn't know if she's coming or going, there's so much ambiguity in her, so much confusion, so many changes, that you need a stellar actress to handle it. And what a face. The planes of Clea's face are so beautiful and so interesting. And she was someone Rodrigo and I had worked with before. She makes Rodrigo light up like a Christmas tree when she comes on set, and me too."
Tensions escalate when the blonde man that appeared to be spying on the group turns out to be another passenger, dazed and confused after the crash. He remembers an explosion, he tells Claire, and "the next thing I'm here, walking around like a zombie." Convinced now her patients were right about a cover-up, Claire takes the man to the airport, determined to confront Arkin and his lies.
Claire finds Arkin at one of the terminals, and their argument quickly escalates into a shouting match then an outright fight when the blonde man attacks Arkin. Then, to Claire's surprise, Janice appears to defend Arkin, clawing at the blonde man. When the dust finally settles, Claire is left alone with her confusion. What does Janice have to do with Arkin? And why is she now defending him?
Later that night, only Shannon returns to group counseling. Everyone, including Janice now, has disappeared. Claire panics and orders a frightened Shannon into the car then meets up with Eric. All retreat to the safety of Claire's apartment. The safety proves illusive, however, for the next morning Eric has a meltdown, Shannon disappears, and Claire imagines a sinister side to Toni.
Turning now to the only person she thinks can help her, Claire arrives at Perry's door. Instead of offering support, however, Perry denounces Claire's theory of a cover-up as an "elaborate" story concocted to obscure the truth Claire needs to face. Claire "then comes to a point where she believes Perry and Toni are complicit, that they've been bought by the airline," reckons Hathaway. "Claire feels her whole world has been turned upside down. She can't trust anyone. But she still feels compelled to save everyone, to fight." Claire accuses Perry of using her, of being a puppet master who manipulated her into doing the airline's dirty work. She flees from his presence, frightened and bewildered.
Unsure of her next move, Claire turns impulsively to her sister but Emma isn't home. Then, to Claire's astonishment, Arkin arrives--and he's a changed man, finally acknowledging responsibility. "Arkin just felt so horribly guilty," says David Morse, "so responsible for what happened that he couldn't face it; he had to put it in terms of somebody else has done something. The moment where he realizes the somebody else is him, it's brutal. There's such a graceful revelation about him at the end."
Arkin then deliberately forgets his briefcase, leaving Claire free to riffle through the airline's documents. Among the papers Claire finds the lengthy passenger list--and the true magnitude of the event comes crashing down. Claire collapses, grief stricken.
Moments pass as Claire digests the truth: no conspiracy, no men in black, just death and human suffering. Then, finally, clarity arrives. Claire composes herself and goes in search of Eric, at the pier preparing a boat. Having abandoned his former life, he's sailing off into an unknown future. Claire, finally ready now to embark on her own new journey, joins Eric at the helm.
Back in Eric's apartment, the finished mural glistens in the daylight: the view from a sailboat: the bow, the sails, and beyond it, the horizon.
"Passengers is a thriller," concludes producer Keri Selig, "but at the core it's really a love story. Yes, Claire needs to solve the mystery, but she also needs to realize she has fallen in love and accept that, to get to the next place in her life."
"A lot of thrillers are set up to be about the thrills," adds producer Julie Lynn, "which aren't necessarily in service to the characters and the journey they're on. Here, the thrills and the romance and the plot are organically intertwined, not there just for the sake of the punch. This movie is more about reminding us that we get to choose how we feel about our lives. While we can't control what happens around us, we can control our relationship to those circumstances and to other people. That's how Passengers is different."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Director Rodrigo Garcia was born in Colombia and grew up in Mexico City. He began as a director of photography with such films as Danzon, directed by Maria Novaro, Mi Vida Loca, for director Allison Anders, and Gia, directed by Michael Cristofer.
Garcia went on to write and direct Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, which won the Fondation Gan Award at Cannes 2000, Ten Tiny Love Stories, Fathers and Sons, and Nine Lives, winner at the 2005 Locarno Film Festival.
Rodrigo has also directed for the award-winning television series Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. He directed the pilot episodes for the series Carnivàle, Six Degrees, and Big Love. Garcia is currently in post-production for the HBO pilot In Treatment.
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