The Martian reminds me of a MacGyver on Mars. You remember the old tongue-in-cheek 1980’s TV show about a secret agent who can make anything out of — well, anything. The old joke is that he could make a bomb with some Scotch tape and a stick of chewing gum. Now that is NOT to denigrate The Martian in any way.
So maybe I should better go with the more obvious analogy —- Bourne in space, though if you say that without thinking you’d assume it was about a generational ship. LOL
I thought The Martian was a good story, well acted and kept me on the edge of my seat. The premise is that one Mark Watney (played beautifully by Matt Damon), astronaut, is part of an exploratory landing crew on Mars who (and this is not a spoiler as nothing you wouldn’t see in the trailer) is thought killed and left behind in an emergency evacuation.
Now, I might quibble with this premise as I have a hard time believing people smart and resourceful and careful and well informed as people who can get other people to Mars and back can not check – the weather? I also can not believe that, even if in the decades to come, we STILL can not *sigh* predict the weather properly (nor cure the common cold I presume) that the geniuses (and I do not use this term here loosely) who got them to Mars would not have anticipated the kind of situation our astronauts find themselves in and provided for it. In short: a bad storm comes up which makes their tower-shaped rocket begin to tip so badly that they must leave their landing site MONTHS prematurely and abort the entire mission!! Somehow I find it unlikely that the future equivalent of NASA would not have provided for an alternative which would have: kept the tower stable OR allowed the crew to come back down in a different spot OR let them telescope the entire rig down to a structure at least less vulnerable than a water tower. (I stayed through Hurricane Rita and I can tell you our city’s water towers were still there the next morning.)
HOWEVER, I usually give any movie at least ONE unbelievable premise as part of their needed McGuffin (the “THING” – whatever it is – without which the plot can not happen) to move things along. Because if everything was routine there likely would not BE a movie. And the emergency take-off and ENTIRE ABANDONMENT of what must have been YEARS and bazillions of dollars in the making ALL because of bad weather —- is the one gimme I’ll give it.
Now, the best parts of The Martian had to do with how Mark Watney decides to fight to live. There is one line that sums up his character and it is a philosophy to which one should aspire. Faced with accidental abandonment on a planet where nothing grows he has to find a way to stretch his food supplies from a few months to years. He has to create water. He has to live in and keep repaired for years a habitat meant for a few months. He has to keep his waste and oxygen recyclers working with minimal equipment other than what was left behind in the emergency evac and some crew mementos. Reviewing the obstacles before him as he videos his assessment of his circumstances he could have (and I might add justifiably) broken down in despair. And for just one moment you wonder which way he is going to go. Then he states with the air of someone simply planning a challenging science project: “I’m gonna have to science the **** out of this.” Lt. Gen. Harry W.O. Kinnard, when offered surrender by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, responded: “Nuts”. When General George S Patton heard about this he famously quipped: “A man that eloquent has to be saved.” So I similarly and immediately felt about Astronaut Watney. Whether he is or not – saved – I wil not spill, but suffice to say that, regardless of the outcome, the struggle made by Watney to not only survive but to do so with grace and courage and OPTIMISM was worth the watching and frankly inspirational.
This is the point at which I heave a small *sigh* and divulge a wish.
What I wish The Martian had been was more Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Now — hold on — there really WAS a movie with that EXACT name which sought to update the current myth of Robinson Crusoe and place it on Mars – only Mars had breathable air and the intrepid survivor ended up with a man Friday. It’s very dated, but very quaint and an old classic flick.
But THAT Robinson Crusoe on Mars is not what I’m talking about. In the ORIGINAL story written by Daniel Defoe published in 1719 Crusoe was an adventurer and slaver, embarking on sea voyage after sea voyage against his family’s wishes. During one of his trips to transport slaves he is shipwrecked and left alone on an island for 17 years. He too learns to survive on an inhospitable “planet”, just as our astronaut Watney does. But one thing the first Crusoe did which our modern astronaut does not is repent and turn to God.
Once again, as I mentioned in the blog about Interstellar happens so often in today’s sci fi stories, in The Martian science becomes god. While the determination to “science the s*** out of —” something to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles is a worthy sentiment, it is not enough. No amount of science in the world will allow you to do more than stave off the inevitable – as Watney discovers (and no I’m not giving anything about the ending away because these set backs come throughout the movie).
The situation for our main character is extremely dire. The man is stuck in space 140 million miles away from Earth and the only people who have even a chance of saving him YEARS from now do not even know he is alive. Mark goes through his friends’ personal effects, he inventories supplies, he plays his captain’s disco music and he even scavenges the wood from a crew mate’s crucifix — but even here only a superficial nod is made to assistance from God for this desperate man’s plight. From a realistic POV I would imagine there to be a lot of discussion with God – and I also imagine not all of it very happy. I would understand anger and grief but ultimately the seeking of solice from and acceptance of God’s Will would have fit in with Mark’s efforts and his thoughtful sangfroid personality.
The Martian suffers from the same flaw as other recent movies about desperate people left adrift (one way or another) without the usual resources (family, equipment, communication with home) needed in a dire situation: like Interstellar and Castaway.
Gravity was much more akin to the original Robinson Crusoe and the original Robinson Crusoe’s themes, because the main character there was struggling with her atheism as an analogy for the isolation she felt from God in the face overwhelming obstacles and baggage of personal tragedy.
The seemingly deliberate avoidance in The Martian of any but the most tenuous and brief of nods to an acknowledgement of man’s need for help from his Creator is a disappointing affront to this and other worthy film efforts.
From an educational POV there is MUCH to be gleaned from Mark’s experiments and projects in biology 101: What is needed when one has almost nothing but sterile dirt to grow food? How DO you make large amounts of water when all you have is air? How do you cope when even your air is in limited quantity? Mark’s solutions are clever and realistic But they COULD have been – with a simple exercise in humility – profound.
Small warning – there is ZERO hanky panky. But the language can get a bit raw, though not at all gratuitous given Mark’s predicament. And given the positive nature of the themes and educational values, worth enduring. The plot is, obviously, quite tense. So I would suggest your initial consideration would be for mid to older teens. But definitely check it out yourself first or access Screenit.com on The Martian for a helpful guide.