The Martian – film review

Still from The Martian movie starring Matt Damon

Image from The Martian starring Matt Damon, Fox Movies 2015

I don’t often get to go to the movies, but when I do I’ll choose science fiction if I can. The Martian received good write-ups, so I went with hubby on date night. The theatre was packed even though the film has been out for a few weeks.

The TL;DR version is – it’s a good film, you should go check it out.

The longer version is that it’s a good film with a surprising amount of optimism, humanity and humour. Without trying to lay any massive spoilers down, I’ll talk about some of the things that made it good and some of the not-so-good things.

As almost all of you should know from the trailers and reviews – a man is left for dead by his space exploration crew and some how he must survive with limited resources and hope for rescue.

Firstly Mark Watney, our protagonist, is an almost inhumanly upbeat person. It seems that being stranded on a planet, you would need that kind of personality to be able to cope with the desolation of being left for dead and abandoned by your fellow human being. And who knows, perhaps the space programme that sends teams to Mars would select people with this attribute? I know that if I were stuck on a deserted planet with my next hope for rescue four years away I might sit and cry for a while. I might get lonely or really bored. Or go crazy. Not Mark. He sciences the shit out of things.

There are a few small scientific errors. For example, they don’t seem to have made very much of the fact that gravity on Mars is about one third of what it is on Earth. There is a scene where he is trying to break a hatch by jumping on it and he seems to have identical success to that of a technician on Earth replicating the effort. Another neglected effect is the muscle, skeletal and circulatory problems you would get from being deprived of the gravity we’ve evolved with. I’m sure that they’ve glossed over these effects for ease of production, but they would have a serious result on Mark Watney’s ability to do almost anything after a period of time. There’s a scene towards the end of the film where he’s emaciated after eating very little and would be suffering also from gravitational effects yet he seems strong enough to lift heavy weights on his back and clamber around in a rather sprightly way without his bones being crushed.

Another niggle was when an accident made him abandon an agricultural experiment completely. It seemed to me that he would have been able to restart, albeit in a lesser way. I imagine this was just a way of upping the jeopardy for a seemingly indomitable character.

But what can I say, these small details didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment of the film. Science Fiction is not, at its heart, about technical scientific detail (although I’m sure there are some out there who might disagree). No, to me, it is a love letter to humanity – and Mark Watney, through his trials and triumphs, becomes the ultimate human, a hero for an entire planet who are swept up in the race to get him home. Glimmers of well-trodden themes such as a space programme for all of Earth begin to emerge driven by the urge to save this symbol for ourselves. It’s all very romantic and idealistic, but one hopes that the best of us would try something like this. And this is where it delivers on hope. Not just for Watney, but for us, our future. It is a utopian ideal and one that makes the heart glow.

If I were to write The Martian, I guess I would have opted for a little more desolation in a life divorced from our home planet, a little more ugliness in the human race but in the end, you need some sources of purely upbeat hope that our near-future will be worth living. And that is why I would recommend the film – as a balm for all the bad things we see happening in the world today. And the purity of the optimism is probably why the Martian would never win an Oscar, sadly. Although you never know.

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