A closer look at… The Martian
Warning: Contains plot spoilers
When a fierce storm during a manned mission to Mars leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded alone on the red planet, it seems all hope is lost. But Watney is not the type to give up easily. Using his botany skills, his ingenuity and a lot of duct tape, he sets about staying alive until somebody can come and rescue him.
Help is only 140 million miles away. Back on Earth, NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his colleagues — including mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and spokesperson Annie Monroe (Kristen Wiig) — try to figure out how to achieve the impossible.
Meanwhile, Watney’s commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of her crew are on their return voyage, still believing that they left him for dead. What will they do if they find out the truth?
‘Mark’s fate will be determined by whether he succumbs to panic and despair and accepts death as inevitable — or chooses to rely on his training, resourcefulness and sense of humor to stay calm and solve problems.’- Ridley Scott
Well, that was a lot of fun. You can’t really fault The Martian on pure entertainment value, and its optimism is infectious. Personally I would have loved to see more development of the secondary characters, and even of Watney himself. I wanted to find out more about his background and his life back on Earth — but maybe the whole point is that we don’t?
This film gets extra kudos for its portrayal of women in science and engineering jobs. And for casting Sean Bean, entirely — or so I’d like to think — for the purpose of a delightful Lord of the Rings meta-joke.
‘In man versus nature scenarios, the smart money is usually on nature.’- Matt Damon
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? What were your favourite scenes? How does it compare with other work by director Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon?
- How did you respond to Mark Watney as a character? Did you want to know more about him, or do you think it’s best that he remains an ‘everyman’? How might you have reacted in his situation?
‘I’m not gonna die here.’ — Mark
- What role does humour play in the story, and why do you think the filmmakers chose to go for such a lighthearted tone? What did this add to the film, and do you think it detracted at all? What value does humour have in crises or in tragic situations?
- How does the film portray scientists and engineers? Is this kind of portrayal unusual in Hollywood films, and why might this be the case? What are some of the common perceptions of scientists and science in our culture?
- Teddy refuses to risk the lives of the other astronauts to save Watney, while Mitch (Sean Bean) implies that one life is worth risking everything for. Who do you agree with here, and why? What might be some of the deeper beliefs and assumptions underpinning these two moral positions?
Teddy: It’s bigger than one person. Mitch: No, it’s not.
- How did you react to the film’s optimism — both about the intentions of all its characters, and about the human capacity to triumph against the odds? Are there forces in the world which can be stronger than our ingenuity or good intentions?
‘If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.’ — Mark
- What did you make of the moments in the film where characters seem to call on a higher power? Do you agree that this is a natural human reaction in times of crisis, and why might this be the case?
‘Do you believe in God, Vincent? We’ll take all the help we can get.’ — Mitch
- What does The Martian have to say about the deeper value of work and of our professional passions? What does Mark Watney believe that he is living — and maybe dying — for? What might it mean to live for something ‘big and beautiful and greater’ than ourselves?
‘Tell them I love what I do, and I’m really good at it. And I’m dying for something big and beautiful and greater than me.’ — Mark
Originally published at filmblog.damaris.org on October 14, 2015.