Houston, we have a hit!
Before it was even released, comparisons were being drawn between The Martian and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, both revolving around a astronaut fighting to survive after an accident that leaves them stranded in space. But I would argue that there are more similarities between The Martian’s Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and the crew in Apollo 13, as his story is rooted in the scientific problem-solving that it takes for him to survive and for NASA to launch a rescue mission. Similar to in Apollo 13, Space is treated like a mysterious and dangerous realm where humans can test the limits of their technology and creative-thinking. The entertainment in the film is not in the end result of the struggle but in watching a lot of really smart people solve really hard problems.
The Martian has been lauded for it’s realistic science and was even promoted by NASA as the most realistic interpretation of how we might execute an expedition to Mars. Much of the hard science is glossed over in the film giving the audience a proud sense of understanding while never losing them in the complicated details of space travel. And when strategies are elaborated, it’s in a way that’s entertaining for both the geek and the layman alike.
The cast is beautifully and cleverly assembled by Ridley Scott. They all play a notable role in both the plot and the tone of the film. And then of course there is Matt Damon. As an easily relatable actor, he is able to turn Mark Watney into an everyman, easy to empathize with and root for. While Damon’s performance isn’t anything to write home to Earth about, it is easy to relate to his character making him an outstanding choice for this role. For while Watney is physically alone on Mars, fighting to survive against all odds, all of humanity is standing with him, working tirelessly to bring him home. The filmmakers frequently cut between Watney alone and Mars and NASA’s team on Earth, constantly reminding us that whether you’re stranded on a desert planet or sitting in a conference room in a NASA facility, we’re all in this together. For what is humanity without community?