'The Martian': A Testament To The Indomitable Spirit Of Man

05/10/2015 11:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images
LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, CA - AUGUST 18: In this handout provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel, left, Actor Matt Damon, Director Ridley Scott, Author Andy Weir, and Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters Jim Green, participate in a question and answer session about NASA's journey to Mars and the film 'The Martian' August 18, 2015, at the United Artist Theater in La Canada Flintridge, California. NASA scientists and engineers served as technical consultants on the film. The movie portrays a realistic view of the climate and topography of Mars, based on NASA data, and some of the challenges NASA faces as we prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, presents the epic tale of survival of a NASA astronaut, Mark Watney, who is presumed dead after a violent storm and left behind by his crew members on the planet Mars. An adaptation of a 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, and Kate Mara.

Andy Weir's The Martian can be seen as a continuation of the long tradition of epic storytelling adventures as reflected in the sprawling sagas of tale tellers like Homer, Dumas, Verne, Twain, Kipling, and Conrad. What happens to Watney (essayed by Damon) in The Martian may appear quite analogous to the doomed fate of castaways. In fact, Watney's survival instincts remind one of the protagonist in Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away. The Martian is essentially a testament to the indomitable spirit of man, perhaps a Robinson Crusoe that takes place on Mars or a paean to the two undisputed masterworks of American literature, Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Earnest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

"The Martian proves to be a cerebral movie viewing experience, offering a nice mix of scientific knowledge and entertainment."

The Martian is a grueling account of a man's struggle for survival in a hostile environment, and, while it may now seem a joke to some, Weir actually had to struggle a lot to get his book published. He began writing the book in 2009 and studied orbital mechanics, astronomy as well as the history of manned spaceflight as part of his research. When he didn't find much luck with the publishers, Weir decided to put the book online in serial format, one chapter at a time, for free. It was only later that, at the request of his fans, he released an Amazon Kindle edition that went on to sell 35,000 copies in three months and that's how The Martian eventually caught the attention of publishers. Weir sold the print rights to Crown in March 2013 for over a hundred thousand dollars.

Touted as one of the most anticipated releases of the year, The Martian seems to have got a major box-office boost by the recent NASA findings that confirm the existence of liquid water on the Red Planet. In the movie, however, Astronaut Watney is shown producing water, through a chemical reaction using Hydrazine, to grow potatoes. Ridley Scott and team give us a perfect Sci-Fi adventure that touches us both viscerally and intellectually. The movie's scientific accuracy (there are some minor inconsistencies, of course) can be attributed to the presence of James L. Green, the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA, as an adviser. As far as Hollywood is concerned, space travel has become a recurring motif in recent years. While it was Christopher Nolan' Interstellar last year, it was Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity the year before. The Martian is certainly superior to Gravity in that it talks about more than just the perils of space travel, but it fails to match the metaphysical depth of Interstellar.

"The Martian entertains us at different levels but not at the cost of science."

Overall, The Martian proves to be a cerebral movie viewing experience, offering a nice mix of scientific knowledge and entertainment. The movie marks Ridley Scott's return to his most favorite genre, after a gap of three years, following Prometheus. The Martian couldn't have come at a better time for Scott, given the poor show of his previous two films, Exodus and The Counselor. Matt Damon too deserves our praise for bringing the movie to life with his soulful performance (an Oscar nomination seems to be on the cards). He is well supported by the rest of the cast. The Martian entertains us at different levels but not at the cost of science. While it may not deal with complex scientific concepts like relativity, space-time continuum, black holes, time dilation, worm holes, or time travel, but it nonetheless succeeds in stimulating our curiosity for space travel. Traveling to Mars no longer feels like a dream. If it can be shown on a cinematic screen, it can also be done for real. An idea, as they say, is the most resilient parasite. A must watch!

A version of this review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.

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