The Martian, by Albert W. Vogt III

Talk about social distancing, right? If you are really wanting to get away from everyone right now, unfortunately you cannot get to Mars . . . yet. I would not be surprised if humanity gets there one day. There was a time when living on another planet seemed the stuff of shows like Lost in Space or Star Trek. These days we can watch a film like The Martian and see how something like this is not only plausible, but seemingly likely. You can decide for yourself whether that is an exciting or terrifying prospect, and let this review of The Martian (and the movie itself) help inform that opinion.

Let us make one thing clear off that bat if you have not seen The Martian (and spoilers ahead): it is not about aliens. Instead, it features Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut part of an international team of scientists that studies and lives on Mars for brief periods of time. When a storm suddenly breaks upon their base (think the mother of all dust storms), the decision is made to cut short their mission and head home. On the way to the ship that will launch them off-planet, a piece of flying debris from their equipment strikes Watney and his companions are forced to leave him behind thinking he is dead. Of course, the thing that prevents him from leaving Mars was part of their communications equipment. The one thing, in other words, that might help Watney speak to those who could help him more immediately. Thus he is faced with the prospect of having to survive for close to two years (basically the time between missions–hey, Mars is a long way from Earth!) using left over supplies and equipment that was not necessarily designed to last that long. Any one of us when presented when presented with this scenario might be reduced to gibbering madness, or even darker thoughts (God forbid). Thankfully, the men and women we send into space are made of sterner stuff, as is Mark Watney.

The main question at the center of The Martian is hope. Without hope, life become all the more difficult. Watney certainly hopes to be rescued from Mars, and all of his actions throughout the film are steps taken to achieve that goal. What is the first thing that any one needs in order to survive for an extended period of time? Food and water. Thus, in order to supplement the resources left behind by his crewmates, he figures out a way to grow potatoes. Check. Next, to find a way to communicate with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) back on Earth. Eventually they get this down to having an intergalactic chatroom. It is a bit 1990s, but better than nothing. Check. Then finally comes the plan to get him off Mars, which comprises the thrilling climax of the film. I am not going to get into too much detail because it is better to watch than read about, but it involves Watney (quite purposely) using escaping air from his spacesuit to propel him the remaining distance to his waiting cremates after blasting off from the surface.

Watney’s will to live in The Martian will have you pulling for him the whole way. He does it with a bit of humor along the way as well. One of the better moments for this Catholic was when he uses shavings from Rick Martinez’s (Michael Peña) Crucifix as part of his plan to create water. As he whittles tiny bits of wood from it, he remarks that he is counting on God to be okay with what he is doing. I have a feeling that God would be cool with such an act when in the pursuit of survival. After all, when David and his companions were in need, they went into the Temple and ate the bread of offering. Besides, it was not like Watney was dancing around, chanting demonic words, and spitting on it. He said what amounted to a small prayer, and in the end, it worked.

I like The Martian because it is a logical movie without taking away from the thrilling-ness of the situation. Watney does everything in his power to survive, and when things go awry he does not give up. It is simply on to the next solution. I can admire his stick-to-itiveness, while at the same time forgiving his rather colorful language. He is only human. You try being stuck on an entire planet by yourself without letting a few swear words slip.

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