Matt Damon becomes The Martian when a severe storm hits the crew of the Ares III on Mars and Mark Watney (Damon) gets left behind, presumed dead. The story of his fight to survive and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of impossible odds is not a new story, but director Ridley Scott tells it like no other.
A New Mission
Having been impaled by part of the communications antenna in the storm, Watney wakes up to find that he’s all alone on the Red Planet. After tending to his wound (I had to look away), Watney assess the situation. He’s got enough food for a little while but rescue won’t come for four years. What’s he going to do? Watney tells his video log, “I’m gonna have to science the **** out of this.”
First on the agenda: food. On a planet where nothing grows, he’s got to figure a way to eat. Of course, he just happens to be a botanist. If he was the mission’s tech guy he would have been toast. He builds a rig that makes water and uses the vacuum packed human waste for fertilizer and, voila, a potato harvest. I laughed out loud at the video log where he pathetically announces that he’s run out of ketchup.
Back on Earth, the NASA satellite operator (Mackenzie Davis) notices stuff moving on Mars. Watney is alive! Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sean Bean brilliantly play the NASA bigwigs who get to decide what happens next. Ejiofor’s Vincent Kapoor heads the Mars division and Bean’s Mitch Henderson, responsible for the Ares III crew, both want to exhaust all possibilities to get Watney back. Teddy Sanders (Daniels), the boss of NASA, questions the millions of dollars and possible loss of other lives to save just one man. “It’s bigger than one person,” he declares to which Henderson responds, “No. It’s not.”
Next on the agenda for Watney: contact Earth. Salvaging old equipment sent to Mars decades earlier he manages to raise Houston. The fight to bring him home begins.
Matt Damon Rocks
I was expecting something like Castaway when I saw the trailer for The Martian and while there are some elements of the Tom Hanks film, Martian totally blows it out of the water. Matt Damon’s performance makes the 2 hours 21 minutes running time of the film fly by. His ability to capture the gravitas and the humor of the situation has you rooting for him from the very beginning. The supporting cast, including Jessica Chastain as the commander of the Ares III mission, shines. Chastain and crew, together with the folks on the ground at NASA, sustain the suspense of the film and keep the focus on the human story amidst quite a bit of science-heavy dialogue.
Value of One Human Life
The Martian celebrates humanity, human ingenuity, and the drive to survive in the face of dire situations. Watney’s situation is about as dire as they come. With the world watching and helping (the Chinese government declassifies a top secret project to help NASA), the film showcases the best of humanity working together for the sake of one of its own. As I watched, I was reminded of the moral concept of the common good. Working towards the common good challenges people to put selfishness behind in order to build up the good of each other and society.
While The Martian honors the common good and the value of a single human life, I also reflected on the fictional worldwide effort it took to bring Watney home. In reality, our society is inconsistent in applying the same kind of effort to all humans in need. Look at abortion, the homeless, refugees, those who have been neglected by insufficient government programs. Where is the money, the agencies, the tireless effort of people to bring those on the fringes of society “home” to a life where they can live with dignity and respect? It’s there to some extent but, like Pope Francis urges, even more needs to be done.
I hope you will join me in praying for those who harm human dignity by their actions and for those who work diligently for the betterment of each human person made in the image and likeness of God.