The Martian review: This space saga is all about being human
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Sean Bean
How many times have you stood under the starlit sky and wondered what lies beyond? Whether pondering on the fables of little green men or understanding the true expanse of the universe of which we are a tiny little part, or - like in this film - wondering at the ingenuity of men (and women) who actually dared to take the tiny step which was a giant leap for mankind.
Matt Damon-starrer The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott -- in rare form, is a throwback to those brave days of space exploration, peppered with enough wry wit and thrills to keep you entertained. But essentially, it is a nod to indomitable human will, initiative and the thirst to go where no man has gone before.
Based on Andy Weir’s bestseller, the film also works as the best PR Nasa has received in the last few years. Matt Damon’s Mark Watney, a botanist, is part of a six-member team America’s space agency has sent to Mars to collect and bring back samples. The setting is a few years from now when Nasa is sending crewed missions regularly to the red planet. Hit by a storm, the crew hurriedly leaves the planet and Watney is left behind, presumed dead by the crew’s chief, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain).
Luckily, as per Watney, he is not dead. The film then unfolds as Robinson Crusoe stranded on Mars who, luckily - Watney’s favourite word -- is also a botanist. Scott could not have chosen a better Watney than Damon. The actor keeps Watney irreverent, yet vulnerable. Being stranded in space poses more than a few problems but Watney has a solution to every one of them, and a quip to go with each. Early on in the film, he announces that if he has to survive, he will have to “science the sh*t out of this”.
He understands that if he even manages to communicate with Earth, the first ship can reach him earliest at four years. And he has rations to last him a quarter of that time. So he does what anybody with some DIY spirit and a botany degree to his name will do - he farms on a planet where nothing grows, and also makes some water. It makes him the first coloniser of Mars, also the best botanist on the planet, and the first human to do a lot of things there. As he puts it, “In your face, Neil Armstrong.”
Every time he faces disaster, he has some tarp and duct tape ready. His can-do spirit keeps him and our hopes alive - reminding us that potatoes can come up from dried-up poo too. Please don’t miss the message, all ye Hollywood directors who love dystopia so.
The film may lean into predictability at times, its climax pretty clear 10 minutes into the film but how can you not like such a humour-infused drama of survival and hope? The action back home is heartwarming as well. As soon as Nasa finds out that Watney is alive thanks to some satellite tinkering, it is not the question of whether to bring him home but how.
The grim faced Nasa director (Jeff Daniels) has some reservations but they are washed away by the tide of goodwill by people across the world. Small but emphatic performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Nasa’s head of Mars missions, Kirsten Wiig as the agency’s PR head and Sean Bean as its flight director add a lot of heart to the film. Donald Glover’s astrodynamist who gives an innovative solution to a tricky problem, deflating the Nasa head boss in the process is another one to watch for.
When days before this film’s release, Nasa confirmed that water has been found on Mars, many opined that the coincidence was not mere serendipity. We will go with the mood of the film and choose to believe it was. As we do that we will send a man (or woman) up there. Because what is humanity without its thirst for knowledge and some DIY spirit. Remember that when you next look up at the great beyond.