Cosmic heterotopia : banality and disjunction in the interiors of 'Passengers'

Ioannidou, Ersi (2021) Cosmic heterotopia : banality and disjunction in the interiors of 'Passengers'. In: Kirkham, Pat and Lichtman, Sarah A., (eds.) Screen interiors: from country houses to cosmic heterotopias. London : Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781350150584


The sci-fi Hollywood blockbuster Passengers (Mortem Tyldum, 2016) transplants the barren technologically-sustained capsular urban-scale interiors of the cruise ship to outer space thus putting forward a rather unexpected approach to designing a spaceship: it stops imagining how interiors will look in the future and proposes the possibility to reuse and export existing Earth interiors in outer space. This approach creates an obvious aesthetic disjunction between the exterior of the starship – perfectly futuristic and unique – and its interior – a mélange of quotations somehow banal in their familiarity – and offers a depiction of the spaceship as direct descendant of the cruise ship: a heterotopic space for consumerism and escapism. More importantly, it inadvertently exports in outer space a particular kind of terrestrial spaces; the kind of spaces that Marc Augé famously defined as ‘non-places’. ‘Non-places’ constitute heterotopias that resist domestication. This paper reads the plot of the film as the struggle of the sole awake passenger in the starship to domesticate the vast, unpopulated, sleek interior in an effort to fight against the desperation brought about by the experience of pure ‘non-place’. In this light, Passengers becomes a cautionary tale. It articulates a critique towards one of the representative spaces of consumer society – the gigantic cruise ship – and reminds us that humankind is likely to replicate the social, political, economic and cultural structures of Earth in outer space. Ultimately the banality of Passengers’s interiors reflects our current anguish in view of our incapacity to imagine an alternative future.

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