Sunday, October 4, 2015
A Review of The Martian: Cast Away meets Apollo 13
This afternoon we went to see "The Martian" staring Matt Damon, it's based on the book (which I've not read) by Andy Weir. Let's get the big problem out of the way, most people watching the movie will think the planet Mars has such a thin atmosphere, the huge dust storm that's key to the plot wouldn't be possible. Here's an image from the Hubble showing a dust storm on Mars:
So, Mars does have huge dust storms...
The plot to The Martian is surrounded by a lot of science but it's not dependent on science to be as good as it is. The real depth of the plot is the human condition called community. The story reemphasizes the intrinsic value of friendship and the fact that life as fragile as it is, is priceless.
After the huge dust storm separates Mark Watney (Matt Damon's character) from his crew, survival isn't the only crisis Watney faces. Watney has to endure many months of separation from all human contact, he's not just alone, he can't even communicate for a long period of time. When you think about it, separation is the harshest form of punishment we know of, from time-out for toddlers to solitary confinement for hardened prisoners.
As the plot develops, it doesn't take long for the movie to feel like two of Tom Hank's best movies, Cast Away and Apollo 13. The solitude and the urgency of sustaining oneself physically, as the main character, along with some interesting ingenuity are both center stage.
What really helps the plot though isn't just Watney's condition, it's the entire team that tries to rescue him. I won't spoil the plot and give away whether he's rescued or if he starves to death. It's a slow moving plot, and appropriately so. Watching The Martian, there are many times you empathize for Watney, feeling deep frustration or even anger over the bureaucracy of NASA and the political posturing of people who try to cover up the facts and save face.
The big take away though is the fact that life is too precious and valuable to just let someone die, even if you have to travel halfway across the solar system to try to save them. There was only one reference to God in the movie. Jeff Daniels's character asks another NASA administrator during an attempt to launch supplies to Mars if he believes in God. The response is the other character's one parent was a Baptist, the other parent Hindu, so he guesses he has no choice but to believe. Daniels's character then says, "We'll take all the help we can get."
But, as I watched that scene and the entire movie, I felt if human life is just a product of blind chance, survival of the fittest, and unguided nature, then one human life isn't worth one gallon of rocket fuel. Therefore, The Martian shows once again the emptiness of nihilism, or of any philosophy that dehumanizes us, removes the divine from our meta-narrative, and loses sight of the holiness of life.