The Martian (2015)

In The Martian, Matt Damon gets stuck on Mars and says, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

His mission’s captain is a white woman. Also on the ship are a Mexican-American man, a German man (played by a Nordic man), and a white man and white woman (who are in love). A white man runs NASA, but is afraid to take risks. A Chinese-American man runs the tech (and is hooked up with the Chinese guys running the tech in China), while an African-American man runs the mission. Another young genius African-American man figures out the math. Kristen Wiig is present and at one point sorta tells a joke.

This movie was upbeat but serious (dealing with loneliness and difficulty without really going off the deep end into being a “brutal” or “difficult” movie), deeply procedural and easy to follow but still dramatic (because plenty of things go wrong), clear in its very simple stakes (Matt Damon might die), properly epic about interplanetary travel (it takes a super long time to get anywhere, and if you spend that time, you’re not on earth with your aging family; space logistics are mindboggling; Mars is empty but being a human not-on-Earth is mega dangerous), was filled with great images (dir. Ridley Scott), and never got too stressful (cf. Gravity (2013)).

A couple things though: Cameras in Matt Damon’s space station are recording his mission. He speaks to them throughout the movie, though the fate of the recordings is never known, so it’s pretty much just a trick to allow for direct-address. Well, okay, that’s narrative convenience, but compare with the mostly silent, way-more-lonely Robert Redford boat-survival movie, All is Lost (2013). Imagine Redford looking you in the eye in the beginning of the movie and saying, “I’m gonna have to boatsman the shit out of this.” Damon’s situation, despite being bleak, is still basically cozy.

And second, for a big budget movie so apparently sensitive to diversity in casting, it’s funny that The Martian still winds up with an imperious white dude who, as the movie’s lead, gets to tell the camera that it was he who “colonized” Mars by being the first to grow food in its native soil, was the first human to be alone on a planet, and who is, technically, also a space pirate. He also repeatedly complains that the only music available on the Mars outpost’s iPod is disco.

when I showed these thoughts abt the martian to davey he replied:

Nice, ya I think you get to what my main problem with what this movie was as well, the kind of twin factors of “who do we want to be saved” (a thing I think about a lot in the context of these movies was, in casting Apollo 13, Ron Howard said that they cast Tom Hanks not based on his believability as an astronaut, but because he was the person that culture most wanted to get back to earth) and the implicit idea that, again, we want Damon saved (I guess I’m tired of having feelings on the matter being taken for granted)… plus his transformation into colonist is also troubling, like that’s what we want saved? Seems regressive.

And there’s something about the measured reasonable engineer-like approach to seemingly unsurmountable problems that strikes me as kind of un-American. Like in the Martian he figures out what his needs are, the amount of time he has to meet them, and then sets out on a schedule (which put this way makes the Martian seem like a movie about working at an office)

In juxtaposition, in Die Hard, John McClane is faced with unsurmountable odds, and spends the next two hours climbing around in places he shouldn’t, dropping explosives willy-nilly down elevator chutes, and running across broken glass. Although theres a part of me that’s happy that Martian is trying to point us in this way, the fact that all-out insanity is not deemed “a way out” anymore [in fiction] is troubling to me on another level.

2 thoughts on “The Martian (2015)”

  1. I, too, miss the “Die Hard”-style totally loose approach, & further feel like the way Bruce Willis acts in that movie is the body language equivalent of “not talking to yourself”, whereas Matt Damon moves around in a way that is supposed to be 100% legible to humans in the audience and back on earth. He doesn’t ever do anything weird in a corner. The vibe was almost like watching a niche YouTube channel that posts too frequently

  2. I just about died laughing at the “disco on an Ipod” comment in conjunction with the image of the DJ juxtaposed onto the Martian hillside.

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