When it comes to the idea of science fiction, our minds often tend to turn to the idea of flashy light sabers, sexy green women, hostile alien takeovers, and witty talking raccoons. Our minds naturally tend to divert themselves to the potential wonders that await us outside the borders of the known universe, however, every once in a while a movie comes along that forces us to re-imagine the things that are already well within our reach, or at least more so than some planet in a galaxy far, far away…
In Ridley Scott’s latest directorial effort, The Martian, science fiction is returned to it’s purest form with a re-examination of life’s obstacles within our own immediate confines. While space films like 2001: A Space Oddity and Contact hinge on theoretical twists and turns, The Martian gives people like Neil deGrasse Tyson a lot less to nitpick with it’s grounded and more realistic approach to the hard science. Even though The Mars One mission seems like a long shot for 2027, The Martian felt as though it could have been based on something that has already happened. When we do go to Mars, this will be the movie we compare the mission too.
The story itself is straightforward. Astronauts on a manned mission to Mars are forced to flee when a sandstorm threatens to knock their ship over. In the pandemonium, a crew member is struck by a piece of flying debris and while unable to see the crew member’s vitals, the captain decides to pull out and retreat under the assumption that the missing crewman had been lost. The Crew Member inevitably awakes to find himself alone in a desolate wasteland where the only refuge is a small, claustrophobic outpost.
The crew member, one Mark Watney [Matt Damon], has to figure out how to survive the harsh conditions of the red planet by making a few months of rations last until the next manned mission arrives; in another four years. With survival his only option, Watney must rely on his own intellect and skill set to make water, grow food, and create the conditions he needs to last until he can be rescued in a film whose overall theme lands itself somewhere in-between Cast Away and Apollo 13.
Traditional film logic dictates that characters are typically forbidden to speak directly to the audience; thou shalt always show and never tell. The Martian skirts this tradition by placing a series of GoPros around the Mars station. This setup allows the narration to come of as natural commentary on his own situation largely in part to screenwriter Drew Goddard’s ability to preserve the punchy self directed quips from Andrew Weir’s original novel. Because of this we’re able to develop an intimate connection with Watney as he logs his progress, his plans, and his overall deteriorating mental state.
There have been a number of realistic space films to come out over the course of the last few years, from 2009’s Moon, to 2013’s Gravity, and 2014’s Interstellar, but the heart of each of these films wasn’t the exploration. Space travel was used as a mere catalyst to talk about emotionally grounded themes like loneliness, grief, and love. Even though The Martian is a deeply emotional film, the science is married to the theme making it just as much about survival as it is about deductive reasoning, and the virtues of the scientific method. While other space dramas are advertisements for science, The Martian aspires to teach it.
The Martian is currently available at a theater near you, but if you want, you can watch the trailer below.