Finished a series last month. Next month I will present my best film of 2021 as we ramp up towards the Oscars. This month sort of feels like an afterthought surrounded by those things. Looking at it that way, it feels appropriate to examine a film that I enjoyed the first time but subsequent viewings have pushed it further and further up my list. Let us take a look inside The Martian (2015, dir. Ridley Scott).
The Martian is a story of a NASA mission to Mars that is forced to abort due to a strong storm. In hastened attempt to get out of there before the storm becomes too severe, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is injured and presumed dead by his crew. Running out of time, they are forced to evacuate without him. Of course, he is not dead and comes to after the storm to find himself alone on a planet with no way of communicating with his crew or NASA. What follows is a study in survivalism, global scientific harmony, and tough decisions with sometimes questionable motives.
Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian does a great many things right. By all accounts, the theoretical science discussed checks out very well – with Neil DeGrasse Tyson calling it, “the most accurate film [he has] ever seen in regard to astrophysics.” It mixes in humor with the high stakes of whether Watney can survive long enough for a rescue mission. It eliminates antagonists in favor of creating nuanced characters that all deserve sympathy. That is no small feat for a film.
If you have not seen it, just turn on FX at any time and it is probably on. (It is a running gag in my house that I will turn on The Martian whenever it is on just to see how long before my wife looks up – typically not at the TV but at me to wonder why we are watching this yet again.) Every time I linger on it even for a little bit, I am reminded of the stellar performance by Damon – forced to act without anyone else for much of the film. I get to see a parade of brilliant actors committing to this ensemble piece with each of them pulling their weight. Standouts to me are Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA’s Mars Mission director, Mackenzie Davis as the satellite planner who first notices Watney may be alive, and Kate Mara as the mission’s system operator. It almost feels bad to single out three performances when everyone delivers.
It is a film that has a little bit of everything and something for everyone. You get two really impressive action sequences (the initial storm and the ultimate rescue attempt). You get some delightful quiet moments with Damon. You get unexpected humor throughout. You get tension in diverse ways and at various levels. Just when everything seems to be working towards a happy ending, a setback occurs. I am not sure you could ask for more from any film. You could argue that the film suffers because it does not lean into any of those areas hard enough to be full present in them, but that argument feels weak to me when considering a film that truly is equally as great as the sum of its parts.
FUN FACT – As part of an ongoing joke on social media, The Martian is part of a series of films (along with Interstellar and Saving Private Ryan) lamented for how much time and money is spent trying to rescue Matt Damon.
JustWatch says that The Martian is streaming on DirecTV and Spectrum. It is also available for purchase on several platforms, including Amazon, YouTube, and Redbox. Or you could literally turn on FX right now and there is about a 145% chance it is currently playing.