The Martian (2015)
Going back to my space theme, I finally got around to watching The Martian recently – it has been on my to-watch list for awhile. I was interested to see it because the book that the film was based on claimed to be quite scientifically accurate and thus I wanted to see how well they translated the science into the film; I was also unsure about watching a film about a man being stranded on Mars. It seemed like it had the potential to be amazing or to be boring and cerebral, as many sci-fi films involving stranded characters can be.
Luckily, The Martian is relatively lighthearted and very realistic. The main characters, especially our stranded hero, are entirely relatable. They are quirky, funny, dedicated, and believable. While Matt Damon as the titular Martian Mark Watney (well, stranded astronaut, but I digress) is the heart of the film, his supporting cast are just as important. We see both our plucky hero struggling to survive and the concerted effort on the ground to get him home again. The emotions that the supporting characters go through – from their sadness at losing Watney to their dread at realising that he is stranded to their adrenaline-filled determination to get him back – are exactly what I would expect from people in such a situation.
That is indeed what is magical about this film – it feels almost like a documentary in how realistic it is. Nothing seems too far-fetched. The technology is slightly further ahead of ours (the film is set in the 2030s), but nothing out of the question from what we already have. Great attention to detail was put into this film, even when they are not explicitly stated.
What I especially appreciated about The Martian was its endless optimism – not just about rescuing Watney, but about human collaboration in general. Watney is a fairly typical American hero at the beginning, but he comes to represent humanity as a whole. The world comes together, at least in spirit, to bring a human back to Earth. It is not about prestige, but about advancing our common knowledge and pulling together for a common cause.
In our current climate, pulling together for a common cause can seem hopelessly out of reach. It seems that increasing political polarization is artificially dividing us more strongly than any national borders, religious divides, or natural barriers. While missions to Mars may seem more glamourous than adapting to (and helping to prevent further) climate change or combating inequalities among peoples, we need to work together on these causes. It is not about leaving the planet, but dealing with it. We can only do that if we recognise that we are all humans – Earthlings, not Martians – and we cannot let ourselves be divided. For now, this planet is our only home.
Furthermore, if we are to eventually go to Mars, we need to do it together. Sure, a bit of competition could be helpful to get things started, but for any long-term goals to be accomplished, all humans of all nationalities need to cooperate and support each other in the endeavour to turn any other planets into a new home.