'Shit' happens

  • Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian

Great thoughts come to you when you are in the loo. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) (s)hits upon the idea that he can 'colonise' Mars using human excrement. He declares on his daily vlog “I am gonna have to science the shit out of this planet”. Thus begins the survival story of Astronaut Watney in The Martian.

The movie is an adaptation of the 2011 best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir. Watney is presumed dead and left behind on Mars by his crew, under the order of Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). But he survives and finds himself alone on the planet. He then draws on his ingenuity and spirit to survive on limited supplies. “Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” he says, as he prepares to cultivate potatoes, using human excrement as fertilisers on “a planet where nothing grows”. He even figures out how to contact NASA, with the help of the old Pathfinder. Meanwhile, on Earth, NASA has already dedicated a beautiful memorial to him. As scientists discover that he is alive, there is a flurry of activity as they try to figure out how to communicate with him. Just as Watney loses his potato farm, their first attempts to send supplies to him explode within a minute of launch. When all seem lost, there is a surprising cooperation from China National Space Agency (CNSA) and the efforts to bring back 'the Martian' get back on track. Meanwhile, his crew on Ares III, who were not informed of the developments, are on their way home. As the crew learns that their mate is alive and in need of immediate rescue, they plan a daring rescue attempt.

The Martian is a good story told well. The movie depends heavily on Mark Watney. The inherently upbeat and humorous Watney is the reason the movie is enjoyable. His not-so-subtle, but well-placed one liners keep the audience smiling despite the helplessness of his situation. All the other characters have their parts to play, but it is Damon as Watney you look forward to each time.

Though the science of the entire movie might escape one's understanding, the script is simple enough. Thanks to Watney's daily vlog, the audience is updated of what is going on. The part where he explains how international maritime laws make him a 'space pirate' is not only witty but also informational.

Director Ridley Scott proves that humour is most successful when delivered in the simplest form. He forces the audience to experience the entire story with an intense positivity. This is where it differs from Interstellar and Gravity. If you are expecting the same anguish and excitement you experienced while watching the other two, then you might be disappointed.

Despite being alone on Mars for a very long time, Watney displays no signs of loneliness or despair. This contributes to making the movie strangely light for such a serious topic. There is a lack of tension as higher ups at NASA discuss how to rescue Watney. Scott does not allow the audience to delve into the tragedy and helplessness of the situation. Instead, one ends up tapping their foot to the old disco numbers.

The unusually resourceful Watney seems more excited than scared at the prospect of being the first man, for 4.5 billion years, to tread alone on the planet. He rightly says, “Everywhere I go, I am the first”. The stunning visuals of the deserts of Jordan translate beautifully as the red planet. Shots of the lone Mars rover, as it travels on the red planet, makes one wonder whether Mars really is so beautiful and not so treacherous.

The rest of the cast is stellar. Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniel, Sean Bean, Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor share enough screen time to keep them memorable. Drew Goddard has packed taut well-timed dialogues and not a single line goes waste. He sneaks in the Council of Elrond as a reference to Lord of the Rings (and Sean Bean) and Venkat Kapoor from the book convincingly transforms to Vincent Kapoor in the movie.

Over all the movie is an experience where everything works out for the good. All problems are solved as the brilliant minds at NASA and international powers come together to save a singular being stuck in a neighbouring, but faraway planet.

Film: The Martian
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean
Rating: 3.5

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