Are we truly alone in the universe?
It’s a question asked by a number of entries into the sci-fi genre.
However, The Martian is not like other films.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), The Martian doesn’t wrestle with this question in terms of alien life on other planets. Rather, it is far more interested on what it takes to survive when you are alone–and whether or not we are alone spiritually.
The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who, on a mission to Mars, is accidentally left stranded on the surface of the planet by his crew. Alone and presumed dead, Watney opts to fight for his life, rather than cower under the circumstances. As NASA gets wind of his plight, they begin to move forward with a plan to bring their boy home, assuming that he can stay alive long enough to be rescued at all.
Far more Cast Away than Gravity, The Martian chooses to tackle its subject matter with a sober tone. In fact, one of the things that the film prides itself on is the fact that the various methods of survival Watney chooses throughout his experience are all scientifically possible. Although the term ‘non-stop thrill-ride’ doesn’t apply to this film, Matt Damon is charming as Watney and keeps your interest with his engaging asides to his journal. (Incidentally, while I admit the film is really well made and quite interesting to watch, I would also argue that this lack of action prevented the film from truly ascending to amazing heights. Personally, I just didn’t feel that the film carried much drama.)
Similar to The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Martian is also a ‘love letter to science’. Interestingly, though, the two films differ in their spiritual dynamics. While Infinity pointed towards a joint venture between science and faith, Martian has no such goals. Faith is mentioned only in passing, and it’s always ‘someone else’s’. For example, Damon refers to the faith of another team member rather than his own. In another instance, during a scene at mission control, faith is mentioned but in the context of “well, hopefully, that’ll work.” Although this isn’t really a surprise–director Ridley Scott has explored faith issues before and clearly struggles with the idea–it does put the emphasis solely on the efforts of human achievement.
Matt Damon literally says at one point that, given impossible odds, he’s going to have to ‘science the [crap] out of it’… and manages to do so. Again, like Infinity, the world is broken down into a series of mathematical equations, yet the wonder is taken away, substituted with a simple pat on the back for the human race and what we’ve accomplished. While this actually makes for a fascinating film (and offers an encouraging view for human achievement), it does subtly inform the audience that life is ultimately about us.
Personally, I found that to be the most tragic part of the film.
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain
d. Ridley Scott
(out of five)