Relocation is an interesting psychological process. My experience as a therapist is shaped by geography, and practicing in DC means that relocation is a recurring theme. A typical day of office hours might include sessions with clients from the Middle East, Europe, the Midwest as well as the South. Some of my clients grew up on farms. Others rotated through military bases. Several grew up in small towns or in urban high rises. While I certainly work with people who grew up in DC, the transient nature of this community shapes my approach to therapy.

Most people enter therapy desiring a change. As we explore goals and strategize, clients identify long-standing patterns and conflicts that may relate to the stated desire to change. For example, if the stated desire is to find a suitable partner and build a committed relationship, therapy might help a person discover that they have a long-standing pattern of pushing people away.

People often relocate to Washington in pursuit of a professional passion. While professional goals may present as the prominent motivator for a move, sometimes an underlying desire for a fresh start in the relationship department also plays a significant but less stated role in the choice to relocate. Through therapy, clients often discover or admit that this underlying urge for personal transformation was actually the primary motivator for their relocation.

The initial phase of relocation often brings excitement and newness that will, indeed, mix things up. The external circumstances of a new city generate thrilling sensations that are similar to the infatuation stage of a new relationship. But underlying, internal conflicts may still remain. A change of location often generates a momentary shift, but it rarely changes long-standing patterns – instead, people take themselves and their patterns wherever they go.

Morten Tyldum’s recently released sci-fi thriller, Passengers, demonstrates that outer space is no exception to this psychological phenomenon. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are just two among a colony of thousands aboard the space ship “Avalon” where enterprising citizens choose 119 years of imposed hibernation in order to relocate to the idealistic new planet “Homestead II” to begin life anew. Unfortunately, Jim’s hibernation pod malfunctions and wakes him up 89 years prior to the scheduled arrival. Jim is then forced to spend time with himself and a variety of artificial forms of intelligence, struggling to come up with a plan. He eventually falls for Aurora whom he becomes infatuated with while she hibernates peacefully in her pod. And in a moment of desperation, Jim disrupts Aurora’s pod and awakens her, thus subjecting her to his complex predicament.

Any further plot description spoils the fun of this film which is not likely to win awards but deserves attention for the interesting questions it asks about relationships, secrets, and intimacy. Many will flock to theaters for its high voltage star power and high tech special effects. But what makes this film unusual is its blending of science fiction and psychology through its exploration of Jim and Aurora’s predicament and their romance. As the duo struggle, the pathological obstacles posed by family secrets becomes clear – withholding critical information from one’s partner is an ironclad barricade to intimacy. Equally vivid is the film’s potent study of location. Aurora and Jim move beautifully in the artificially intelligent ship that is designed to function as a spa-like temporary home to colonists upon their awakening before arrival at Homestead II. They dine out in empty glamorous restaurants and dance with virtual avatars. The alluring setting decorates a façade that location alone can be transformational. But as the characters develop, true change must surface from within.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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