8-14 January 2016 #790

The Martian

Made by the great Ridley Scott, the film portrays the dangers and beauties of space travel
Sophia Pande

For anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to be stranded on an uninhabitable planet out in space, The Martian is essential viewing. The film portrays the dangers and beauties of space travel and is made by the great Ridley Scott, who has, inarguably (at least in the view of this critic) made some of the greatest science fiction films of our time.

The Martian which is adapted from a 2011 novel by Andy Weir, is a procedural along the lines of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief (1948) or Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956) in that it provides minute details of what it would be like to be stranded in space, or in this case, on Mars.

Lest I sound ridiculously lofty in referencing the great European neo-realists – let me move onto the plot: Matt Damon who plays Mark Watney – one of the members of the Ares III manned mission to Mars – is left behind due to a series of very unfortunate incidents that leave his crew members thinking he is dead. With the Ares III crew on their way back to Earth on Hermes, their orbiting vessel, Watney regains consciousness to realise that his only chance of survival is to find a way to feed himself till the next Ares IV mission lands four years later, thousands of miles away from his current location. 

Scott’s character study of Watney’s mixture of stoicism, ingenuity, and sometimes outright optimistic foolhardiness harks back to the cinema of Bresson in the attention to detail and the celebration of the mundane (albeit in space). While this is compelling enough to a viewer for the first third of the film, Watney’s quotidian life soon starts to pall, thankfully the people at NASA figure out that their man is still up there right as your attention begins to wane.

What follows is an incredibly tense series of negotiations, frantic construction to send up a relief probe with extra food, and a heated debate on whether or not to tell the Hermes crew that they did indeed, however inadvertently, abandon one of their own on a planet far, far away. 

Supported by a stellar cast (pardon the pun) including the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetl Ejiofur, Kate Mara, and Jeff Daniels, The Martian is a riveting film that follows in the footsteps of the now classic Ron Howard film Apollo 13 (1995), and of course, Alfonso Cuaron’s stomach churning Gravity (2013), giving those of us on Earth an inkling or more of what it might be like to be in space.