First an admission, I was a teenage Trekkie. When STAR World played reruns of the original 60s’ series in the evenings, I was a nightly watcher. What impressed me about Star Trek was its pervading atmosphere of galactic loneliness. Here we have this small group of humanoids floating in the vast darkness of space, looking for peoples to befriend. In many episodes, Captain Kirk Spock and Bones would find themselves stuck on an alien island, hopelessly marooned, only to find themselves saved by the virtues of their friendships. The Martian, Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi flick, picks up on this explorer tradition. Unlike, Star Trek though, Scott’s film is actually about how science really is, where every great endeavor by an individual is normally supported by a whole cast of people making little endeavors and discoveries behind the scenes.
The Plot: Castaway in Space
A NASA Mission to Mars has to evacuate the planet because of a massive storm. However, during the evacuation, one of the crew, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is lost in the storm. Presumed dead, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) has no choice but to leave him behind and head back to Earth. The injured Watney wakes to find himself alone on Mars, with the prospect of having to live several years on the planet before the next ship come for its scheduled mission. Can Watney survive the harsh, alien landscape and the more alienating loneliness? How will he be saved? With an unstoppable self belief and scientific knowhow, Watney uses his expertise in botany to survive and grow food to become the first Martian colonist.
Laughter and Cooperation Win the Day
While the The Martian does have the thrilling appeal of an interplanetary Robinson Crusoe, Scott’s film has a surprising degree of laughter that lifts what could have been a grim survivalist tone. It seems that what you most need to survive in space is a sense of humour. The screen time is divided between three places, the inhospitable Mars with the solitary Watney, the spaceship with its crew who have the dilemma of deciding whether they should go back to rescue him, and the NASA ground staff on Earth who are working on ways to save him. The Martian shows perhaps more than any other astronaut film what a group effort space exploration really is. While Watney grabs the headlines, there are a whole army of people busying away to get him safely back to Earth.
Captain Kirk basically had two friends to help him survive; Watney has a community and a world behind him. The Martian is ultimately a hope-filled film but not in the way I expected. Okay, it is about survival against adversity and how the use of knowledge, science and virtue is our salvation. However, it is not your run-of-the-mill the individual-against-all-odds kind of survival film. Instead it shows what we really need to survive, which is community. The Martian is an opus to cooperation. This is an opportune message when our human family needs global cooperation to survive global warming, overpopulation and the over-exploitation of our resources.