Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars. Thought to be dead, injured and stranded at 50 million miles from Earth, he survives, at least until things start to go really wrong. The Martian keeps your attention just as alert as a survivor on Mars, in an astronaut suit, must be.
The season seems to have opened to stories set in very dramatic locations. While Everest has received some rather mixed reviews, so far The Martian gets good viewers and critiques reception. After watching it this week, I can give you more than one reason why the story played by Matt Damon scores all the high marks.
Science versus fiction
First of all, this is not really a sci-fi, but a survival story set on another planet. The planet happens to be the next target of humankind for spatial exploration. Currently NASA is planning to send astronauts there in the 2030s, while Mars One foundation seeks to send the first team over in 2026. The choice for Mars is not by chance, as only about two weeks ago NASA announced the discovery of proofs for liquid water on the Red Planet.
But then the movie is a sci-fi. Consider the difference between real current dilemmas regarding Mars exploration and the difficulties faced in the on-screen story. While NASA talks of sending a completely sterile probe to avoid bacterial contamination of fluid water, The Martian speaks of actually colonizing the planet. Put these two into balance and see which weighs heavier.
The super-geek succeeds
One of the hot-spots of the movie is, in fact, the astronaut Mark Watney himself. If you wish, he is a superhero, but a more tangible, real, human in flesh and blood one. And yes he bleeds, and yes he fails, but then yes, he does not give up. After all, he is the super-geek, the muscular biologist who finds a way to grow food on the Red Planet.
The camera plays well with different types of imagery – see reflection in Matt Damon‘s helmet
The fact that Matt Damon plays the character comes as a bonus. I must admit, he is handsome, although for me he just lacks something, a matter of personal taste, probably. Still, I have to give him credit for a the way he walked his character on the fine line between black humour and despair, between confidence and frustration.
The Mark Watney played by Matt Damon stays a memorable character. He makes science appealing, turns it into a superpower, and gets the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster watching his progress and his failures.
If you are anything like me, then prepare yourself to be jumping in your cinema seat a few times, to cover your mouth, to make lots of sounds in terror or surprise, and to occasionally swear. Not that the astronaut himself refrains himself from swearing, but then he at least has got a good excuse. And plus it adds to the humour.
How to survive on your own on Mars
A brilliantly played Mark Watney, who later becomes a lot more lively
The biologist left behind on Mars finds a way in circumstances which would probably make most people think of suicide. It has crossed my mind while watching, and the idea is sawn with finesse in the thread of the story. When he realises he was left on his own, Mark Watney records an entry in the mission logs. He describes the ways in which he could die:
“If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.”
After making this entry, he adds that he considers rather surviving. To be honest, if I was faced with such a dilemma myself, I am not sure I would not be so demoralized I would rather shoot myself in the head. But then, I am not a super-scientist, with the adjacent muscles and provided with NASA training.
The Martian is not an action packed, fast paced movie either. It has got the quality of great imagery of possible landscape on Mars, and it has got the solar-system type of a Robinson Crusoe. It has got that touch of theatre play in it, with its one character only scenes. And then it has got, of course, the political plot on the background.
Mark Watney is lonely, but not alone
Unfortunately, the poster is not very accurate: it is stated in the movie Mark Watney was at
50 millions miles away. Mars was just starting to distance itself from Earth
Once NASA officials have found out Mark Watney is still alive, they have to make a difficult decision: how to help him, how and when to bring him back. And this is a great opportunity to set in motion the political arsenal behind institutions founded with public money. The movie gets the whole picture: you have the guy who considers freedom of choice and the humanitarian side of it all, you have the guy who considers the political reasons behind it all, and you have the guy who tries to cover everything (phew, tough job!).
Well balanced with humour, the tension of what happens to Mark Watney alternates with the growing tension in the rescue team. When I say rescue team I mean the NASA specialists who work on a solution and do nothing else for a few months. Sleeping at their workplace becomes a must as well.
This is actually the beauty of the movie, besides the great scenery, the good dosage of the action versus emotions and characters’ insight. It does not leave anyone behind. The scientists striving to find a solution to bring the astronaut home are more than present. Without them, there would be no mission to Mars. Without them, Mark Watney would be dead.
One planet for one man
The only way they could bring Mark Watney back is by joined efforts of not only many people, but a few nations as well. So, besides being and not being a sci-fi movie at the same time, a super-geek movie and a science-drama, “The Martian” is about the strength of one individual and the power of all. Two ideas stay with me after watching it:
First, each individual must strive and be ready to give his life for the greater good, the good of the whole society.
Second, society itself should strive to help each individual, as every person matters. As seen in the trailer, between the two NASA officials:
“It’s bigger than one person”
“No, it’s not”
Joined together and followed through, these two principles would make the world a better place.