Humans have, ingrained in their DNA, a desire and longing for community. It started when God realized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone—his response was to create Eve as a companion and helper (see Genesis 2:18). But what happens if, by some unfortunate series of events, you’re the only one left on the planet—or worse, another planet? You really have two options—survive or die. This is part of the reason why the The Martian is up for a Best Picture nomination at this year’s Academy Awards. Based on the book by Andy Weir, it chronicles the harrowing adventures of astronaut Mark Watney on the planet Mars. The film is actually up for seven different Oscars (including Matt Damon for Best Actor), but I’m going to focus on the Best Picture award.
First, a reminder of the plot. The Martian begins with an emergency escape from the planet when a massive storm appears at base camp. Five of the six astronauts make it onboard the rescue rover, with Watney left behind for dead after he’s speared by a communications antenna. Miraculously, he survives, but is in a world of hurt as the next mission to the Red Planet isn’t scheduled to arrive for another four years. With a limited supply of food and water, he has to decide what to do. Watney’s decision: “I’m not going to die here.” Thus, he sets about trying to make life happen, all while recording his escapades via video journals. His saving grace is that he’s a botanist and knows how to grow things. But that won’t last forever, and when the habitat depressurizes, destroying his crop, the fight for survival becomes more acute.
Meanwhile, NASA finally discovers he’s alive (after announcing his death) and sets out creating a plan to get him back, helped by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Rushing things doesn’t work, as they find out the hard way on their next launch. Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Bridges) has to try something, and when out of options, gets help in the form of China’s space program. When an astrodynamics student named Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) comes up with a faster way to get Watney—but one that will keep the rescued astronauts in space for another year—the idea is dismissed. But when it’s covertly shared with the crew, they agree to try it—risking their own lives in the process. The world holds its collective breath as an unheard of rescue is attempted.
So what makes The Martian worthy of Best Picture status? First off, the landscape and set design is exquisite and conveys a planet of extreme isolation, complete with unpredictable storms and unforgiving terrain. The attention to detail even extends to the scientific terminology used, conveying the possibility that an event like this could feasibly occur. Dialogue is realistic and doesn’t seem to be forced (outside of a) the constant references to Commander Lewis [Jessica Chastain] and her love of disco and b) the relationship between Johanssen [Kate Mara] and Beck [Sebastian Stan]). Speaking of music, the soundtrack is refreshingly sparse.
Tension is controlled by director Ridley Scott in ways that make the viewer experience a range of emotions—from shock to euphoria. Finally, the acting is on point, with believable and convincing characters (none moreso than Damon’s intriguing portrayal of Watney). As a result, the viewer is transported from the theater into a very delicate situation where one wrong move could mean a loss of lives.
Outside of the earlier reference to community, there are also many references to faith found in the film (not that they have any bearing on making a film Best Picture-worthy, but are still nice). The concept of mission is found as Watney emails Commander Lewis a note with the charge to tell his parents, “I’m dying for something big and beautiful and greater than me.” That sure sounds like something the apostle Paul would’ve penned—and probably the other apostles to boot. The ending also allows for the concept of complete trust to have someone save you when you have no ability to do it yourself (see Romans 5:8).
In the end, The Martian is a worthy film to be considered for this year’s Best Picture nomination. Will it win? I’m not certain, as there are a number of films that take that title as well. But if it succeeds, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. With a compelling story, great acting, and fantastic visuals, you should give this one a viewing if you haven’t already. You’ll understand what it means to truly survive—as well as a few other things along the way.