“The only thing stronger than fear is hope.”
That may be a quote from “The Hunger Games,” but it could just as easily apply to the new movie “The Martian.” In the film, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars after the rest of his crew evacuates, mistakenly believing he was killed in an accident. With a limited supply of food, no way to communicate with Earth and the belief that any rescue attempt is more than a year away, Watney has to find a way to survive on a lonely planet that isn’t designed to support life. He stubbornly refuses to give up, holding to a sliver of hope that he can make it back home.
Based on a book by Andy Weir and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is an uplifting tale of ingenuity and survival with an attention to scientific detail. It’s also a reminder that while space travel will always be dangerous, humanity will always have a need to explore the unknown. Although space exploration seems to be less of a priority now, we still haven’t conquered the “final frontier” and it’s still worth venturing out into the stars.
“The Martian” continues the apparent trend of Hollywood’s renewed interest in space movies. It feels like a blend of “Gravity” and “Apollo 13,” capturing the sense of isolation felt by Sandra Bullock’s drifting astronaut and the clever ways during the Apollo 13 mission the astronauts and engineers jury-rigged equipment after everything went wrong. However, that certainly isn’t to say “The Martian” feels like a rip-off of these films. One of the things that helps the movie stand out is its surprising amount of humor. It seems a little unusual to have humor in a movie about an astronaut stranded on an uninhabitable planet, but the humor here actually feels authentic rather than forced. Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) jokes in order to keep up his spirits, and his positive (albeit slightly sarcastic) attitude keeps him from giving up.
While the film has what is arguably this year’s most impressive casting line-up, featuring Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and more, my favorite parts of the movie were simply watching Watney on Mars: exploring the planet, figuring out a way to grow crops, fixing his living quarters when the airlock blows off. Matt Damon plays Watney as an everyday sort of guy; he’s not a hardened man of action who never shows a moment of fear or discouragement. He makes mistakes and expresses frustration at his setbacks. Yet he’s also incredibly resilient, and even when his death seems inevitable, he doesn’t regret his decision to come to Mars. He’s willing to make the sacrifice.
I also thought it was powerful that (spoiler alert!) Watney’s crew members risked interrupting their journey home and turned around to rescue Watney on Mars as soon as they learned he was alive, defying NASA’s direct orders. This meant extended time in space and more danger, but they refused to abandon their crew member. Would I be brave enough to make that decision? I hope that I would. I also found myself wondering if I could cope as well as Watney if I were the astronaut stranded on Mars. Considering that flying on regular commercial airlines makes me anxious, there’s probably no chance that I’d ever be allowed in space anyway, but it’s still interesting to ponder how I would react. I think sometimes, we as humans are stronger than we think. People can beat impossible odds and survive impossible situations if they keep fighting and refuse to give up.
“The Martian” is definitely a film I’d recommend catching in theaters, and while I didn’t get to see it in IMAX, I bet it would be worth splurging on to see the gorgeous and desolate Mars scenery on a huge screen. The only thing I might have changed is the film’s ending, which features a “where are they now” montage of all the characters after the Watney rescue attempt. A more powerful ending might have been (sorry, spoiler alert again!) right after the crew rescues Watney and they are embracing in the airlock. The actual ending feels just a bit too “Hollywood” and takes away some of the emotional impact of the rescue. Still, I really loved this film and I hope Hollywood continues to make movies about space travel.