THE MARTIAN

There are spoilers in this review. Duh.

The best thing I can say about The Martian is that even knowing exactly how it was going to end, I was on the edge of my seat as the movie reached its last act. The end result didn’t matter so much as the emotional intensity that was happening on the screen. When I tried to explain why I loved this movie so much, it came down to saying that it was a movie about intelligence, human connection, and optimism. Optimism in the face of absolute impossible odds, and it’s not cheesy at all (maybe a little cheesy). Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is in a situation where so many of us would just give up, and beyond that, the entire rest of the characters do everything in their power to save the life of one person. That’s pretty beautiful, especially in a cynical world, and I’m often a cynic myself.  I went ahead and read the book by Andy Weir after I saw the movie, and I wish it’d been the other way around. Mostly because I think it was an excellent adaptation, but I would have appreciated it more if I knew that. If anyone is interested in the book, it’s pretty much the movie, but with a lot more hilarious commentary by Mark since it’s something of a running diary for him.

Mark Watney is one of the Ares III crew on a mission to Mars, and they come across a sudden freak storm that forces them to abort. Unfortunately Mark is hit by debris and lost in the storm, and he is presumed dead. His commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) tries to go looking for him, but she can’t risk the rest of the group, so they leave him behind. NASA informs his parents and the world of his tragic death, and the crew grieves. Except Mark survived. He was injured but does first aid on himself, and then makes it to the “Hab,” the main living quarters for the mission. There he faces the fact that he is screwed; they think he’s dead, and by the time the next mission comes around, he will definitely be dead. He’s lost out there and NASA doesn’t even know they should come back for him. Plus they can’t actually go back for him, the Ares III is already gone. Mark decides he is not going to just lie down and die, and he tries to think of ways to survive on this desolate planet. Luckily for him, he’s a botanist. He manages to grow potatoes when he “sciences the shit out of this.” He does a regular video diary where he talks about the many obstacles in his way, and he manages to keep a cheerful if occasionally bleak perspective on everything. All the while attempting to inform the USA of his survival.

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Meanwhile on Earth, an observation of a satellite around Mars clues in NASA that someone’s moving around on there. They realize it’s Mark and start brainstorming how to save him. My favorite part of this story is how smart everyone is. They don’t really dumb it down for the audience, so much as they explain it in a way that non-astronauts can understand. It doesn’t sound simple. Personally I love the celebration of intellect and science and technology in this. Later in the movie Mark reflects on what got him there and says he doesn’t regret doing what he loved even if it brought him to this. It’s not a new concept, but there’s so much sincerity in it, and after watching him struggle to survive, you believe it. After crippling failures, including failure to launch a rescue from Earth, and Mark losing most of his crop, a random genius played by Donald Glover comes up with a solution. Mark’s team – who is unaware at this point of his survival – can circle the Earth and go back to get him with the new supplies. Doing so would put all their lives in jeopardy and strand them out in space longer than they expected. Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), the Director of NASA, doesn’t want to take the risk. He is the closest thing to an antagonist in this, but he isn’t really, because you completely understand where he’s coming from. Losing the entire team is too much in his opinion. But their mission director Henderson (Sean Bean) is determined to save Mark, and he secretly informs the team of what is happening. They then decide to go back, even if it means they will be court martialed for disobeying orders.

I think you can guess where this is headed. By the end I’ll admit I was teary eyed and kind of wanted to hug everyone. It’s just one of those kind of films. It has to be said that the acting cast in this is stellar. Even the smallest roles are well done. We only see a little of most characters, since Mark is the real star, but all their portrayals are strong and sympathetic. I absolutely loved his crew. Everything is top notch. Acting, filming, directing, the music, the visuals, it’s all perfect. I like how director Ridley Scott doesn’t go overboard with his vision. The Mars shots are simply stunning, but overall it feels very grounded in reality, like in the ships and in his little work space. A lot of careful thought went into the creation of the book, and it’s clearly treated with a lot of love in the film itself. Matt Damon is exceptional. He’s better than that. 75% of this movie rests solely on his shoulders, and he does it with warmth, humor, humility, and intelligence. He can have you laughing one second and devastated the next. If he doesn’t get nominated for all the awards, there should be a riot, but I think it’s guaranteed he will. The Martian is a positive film. It is smart, fun, intense, and knows just when to tug at the heart strings. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about this movie. Every aspect worked for me. It’s not often that happens, so I salute you.

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