4.5 out of 5 stars
'Hi, I'm Mark Watney and I'm still alive... obviously.'
From the opening sequence, it is clear that Mars is a desolate and harsh environment. NASA has sent a manned mission to the red planet, but due to a dangerous storm that will threaten her crew, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) has to decide to leave the place they have temporarily called home. As they attempt to leave during the storm, one of her crew members, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is hit by flying debris and thought to be dead. Lewis is left with the difficult choice of saving the rest of the crew or searching for Watney. Her choice is to sacrifice one for the sake of the crew and they leave Mars and Watney behind. The next day, the crew mourn their crewman without knowing that he had survived the storm. Back on Mars, the interstellar botanist has to come to terms with the challenges of being left alone on the lifeless planet with meagre food stores and no direct communication with his team or NASA. Through human ingenuity and the desire to survive, he must find a way to connect with the people who think he is dead with the hope of getting home to Earth.
Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is back in true form with The Martian and it is a reminder of this director's brilliance and what keeps his fans coming back with hopeful anticipation. This space journey incorporates whispers of past survival stories like Apollo 13, Gravity and Castaway, but Scott delivers a fresh perspective on this enduring genre.
Whether it is on a remote island or in space, experiencing man’s ability to survive and the lengths that their fellow humans will go to see these survivors saved is worth the price of admission. Scott manages to bring together a talent pool of actors that provide the right balance of believable performances and drama to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetel Ejiofor help to lead out a stellar cast that make for a perfect mix of characters, but ultimately, this is Matt Damon’s film.
Damon’s strength of character, unassuming intelligence and dry wit help to drive this story and keep it from turning into an arduous experience. The unwavering belief that he is a botanist and an astronaut provides the needed tenacity, brains and borderline arrogance to make his survival plausible. The trick for the director is to bring the audience along on the journey and make us believe Mark Watney is on Mars and provide enough hope that this space explorer can make it home. Scott manages to balance effective cinematography with a well-crafted script and the right support characters to make this unbelievable tale believable for the audience.
The difficulty in writing a review like this is trying to balance the review with potential drawbacks. The struggle is finding any. The Martian may not appeal to those who need excessive car chases or gun fights to keep their attention and the language is meant for mature audiences, but none of these elements weaken the overall entertainment value. This is an exceptionally compelling ride and should be on the must see list of anyone who enjoys good cinema.
The survival genre is ripe with points of conversation about the human condition. In a film like The Martian, the cost/benefit analysis of saving this one man’s life does not make any sense. Saving this one man’s life does not seem to justify the expense involved, but it shows how others are willing to risk their physical lives and livelihoods to bring Mark Watney home. Why? Some might say it is the sheer will to live, but it has to go deeper than that, because death is a natural part of life. The answer goes beyond being merely a learnt trait or evolutionary instinct. Mankind seems to be internally wired with a hope for the future. Hope for this life and even something beyond this life. The challenge is considering where this hope originates and how there can be any hope for the future. Is it in science or love of your fellow man or could it be in God?
If you were challenged by the film, here is a real challenge, take time to read through Romans in the Bible to see where hope can truly be found for this life and beyond.
- What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
- What does the Bible say about hope? (Jeremiah 29:11, Roman 8:24-25)
- Why do we care about other’s survival? (Matthew 25: 35-40, 1 Peter 3:15)
- What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)