The movie is without one of the best flicks I’ve seen this year. Together with Everest, it is one of those flicks that pushes the human spirit to the limit. Just how far are you willing to go, to achieve something that will last a lifetime? In Everest it was a personal goal, in Martian, the goal is to leave behind something for humanity. The human spirit knows no bounds. Even though Mark Whatney is stranded millions of miles away in space, he tells himself “I am not going to die here” and he figures out a plan to grow crops “in a place where nothing grows”. I don’t want to spoil the whole movie because I hope people go see it, and get as excited about science as I was, and some kids in the theater were. (Yes, some kids were there despite the strong cursing. But come on guys, kids get exposed to violence all the time. Surely you they can stomach a few swearing that I bet they do when nobody is watching.)
The movie is also very true to the book; Matt Damon lives up to the hype and so does the rest of the cast. There is politics, some intrigue but also hope (which is something that’s often lacking in today’s movies). It is done in a very realistic way, where it’s not just good guy vs bad guys, but just people trying to find out a solution to bring him home, others to make him survive long enough so he can wait for the next ARES mission, and others who don’t want to sacrifice everything for one man. In a typical Hollywood movie, the latter would be the villain, a cold hearted, nasty suit who doesn’t care about anyone but his own ego. But that is not the case here. Jeff Daniel’s character, Teddy, is the director of NASA and he cares for Mark’s safety as much as the rest, but as the leader of a public funded organization, he has to look out for the team first and he is not going to risk everything for one man. In contrast we have another leader, the Commander of Mark’s team, Louis (played by Jessica Chastain) who feels guilty she left Mark for dead and wants to make up for that.
The ending differs from the book and it feels like one additional chapter, but it works perfectly.
I just want to add something more because after I got out of the theater I felt like they were also some similarities with Ridley Scott’s other science fiction movie ‘ALIEN’ (1979). The interior of the Mars base and the ARES look a hell of a lot like the Nostromo and its proto-prequel ‘Prometheus’ (2012). The opening of the movie has that mystery music that works up the suspense like the first one did for Alien, and the letters even appear slowly. The slogan for Alien was ‘in space no one can hear you scream’, the slogan for Prometheus was something along the lines they went searching for our salvation that turned out to be our doom. MARTIAN is all the contrary. It keeps the suspense of the first movie and there is that fear of the unknown. In Alien the fear was that you are stuck in a planet where everything works against you and you find a space monster that is hell bent on killing you. In The Martian, you are stuck on a planet where the science is well known, but you are all alone and nobody knows you are alive until much later and even then, there is no guarantee they can come and pick you up, so you still feel helpless because as Mark says towards the end ‘its space, it doesn’t cooperate’. And there are those similar space suits and rovers like the ones used on Prometheus but whereas the first two were about caution and the dangers of exploration, this is about hope and ingenuity.