I don’t think I fit the conventional geek mould, but I have to admit that I am partial to a space thriller – or at least those that seem vaguely believable and fact-based. I am also partial to Matt Damon and his square nose (who else could make me love a film as cheesy and Americanised as We Bought A Zoo?). Perhaps this combination is why, despite mixed reviews from others, I enjoyed The Martian so much. Unlike space epics such as Prometheus or Star Wars, The Martian is primarily a film about human perseverance and innovation in the push for survival – that just happens to be based on Mars. No intimidating alien cathedrals, no flashy light sticks… more potatoes and 80’s dance music.
Matt’s character, Mark, is left for dead on the first manned mission to Mars, when a freak storm necessitates an emergency evacuation for his team. Impaled by an aerial, he finds himself alone, with only their space bungalow and the rations contained within. His future is dependent on overcoming the obstacles of oxygen generation, water supply, and food source, not to mention finding a means to communicate with Earth, 50 million miles away. He must find a way to get home, and a way to survive until then (up to 4 years, given the time needed for a spaceship to return).
Far from the writers conjuring up some space-age technology to magic away these problems, instead good old-fashioned logic and science are applied. In a somewhat bleak situation, Mark’s humour and optimism turn this into an uplifting story than a gruelling tale of survival. While this may seem far-fetched, this attitude and approach to working through problems actually echoed an interview I had happened to tune into recently, on the podcast Death, Sex and Money, where widower Dr. Jonathan Clark discussed his life post the tragic death of his wife, astronaut Dr. Laurel Clark. While not an astronaut himself, he worked in risk management with NASA (even assisting on the investigation of the disaster that killed his wife). Employing a similar mentality himself, he explains how astronauts are chosen for their ability to stay calm in panic-worthy situations, and tackle problems just in this manner – step-by-step until a solution is found, rather than becoming overwhelmed.
While there are certainly some gut-wrenching moments in the film, there are also eye-opening ones. In one thoughtful scene, Mark dwells on the fact that he is “the first person to be alone on an entire planet”… beyond the camp “everywhere I go, I’m the first”. For a daydreamer like me, these unlikely yet believable scenarios are the type I enjoy exploring – “imagine if…. what would you do… how would you feel… ?”.
I’ll tell you one thing I would have done – rationed the ketchup better.