Most movies we see these days are pretty cynical and gloomy. Given how things are in the world, of course, that’s hardly surprising. We are currently witnesses in our time in how heartless and stupid humans can be. But The Martian is having none of that. In The Martian, when the situation seems impossible, humans might not be perfect, but they are smart, they are determined, and they are willing to go whatever length it takes to help someone. It’s the most optimistic movie I’ve seen in a long time that way.
The first half of the movie eases us into this concept by focusing on how clever humans can be. Or at least one human can be when he’s stranded on Mars and needs to think way outside the box to survive. It’s done with some touches of imperfection-he makes a couple of mistakes, but he survives them, so that’s fine, and also with some convenient circumstances-he happens to have the skillset needed to solve his various problems-although nothing unrealistic for the right NASA astronaut to have, but that all helps us buy it. Incredible feats of survival do happen, after all. We get pretty endeared to the guy too, between one of Matt Damon’s better performances, and the sense of humor he shows in his videoblogs.
But it’s the second half of the movie that really gets to us. During the first half, we have bits and pieces of NASA trying to rescue their guy, with just enough arguments between the people in charge to make that believable too. But then we see the world get involved, the Chinese put aside the hostility between themselves and the Americans to help, and everyone gather and root for one man. Even some of the current world’s flaws-one wonders how many stories CNN gave short shift to as they obsessed over the rescue of this guy-feel endearing and grounding. Because once again, it makes it believable that the best of humanity could, under these circumstances, come out. By the time we see the main characters crewmates sit down and discuss if they’ve going to mutiny and risk everything to rescue him, you know of course they’re going to do it, especially knowing how these crews often will refuse to leave anyone behind, but also because this is simply that kind of movie, where that’s what human beings do for each other.
I saw the 3D version, which increased the spectacle of the Martian surface, but was mostly went unnoticed; the movie didn’t rely on it, and at times I completely forgot about it. After all, it’s not the planet this movie wants to awe us with. It’s the people involved with it.