“The Martian” is unlike any movie I can recall seeing in recent memory. There are no bad guys. Everybody (in the world) is trying to do the same thing together. It’s a celebration of only the best things about us: scientific achievement, human ingenuity, dogged determination, and teamwork on a massive scale all in the service of a single, noble goal. While there is zero pessimism in this film, it never gets maudlin or sentimental. Nor does it seem to follow any of the rules found in The Big Book of How Hollywood Movies Are Made™. It also has to be the most magnificent piece of propaganda ever produced in the service of NASA and science in general.
If it’s ever said when this story takes place, I didn’t hear it. The iPhones all look like ours and the clothing styles are about the same, but as the movie begins we find ourselves at the beginning of the third of five manned missions to Mars using spacecraft and other tech that feels like it’s about 20 years in the future and had to have cost trillions to build and launch and assemble on another world. The implication of this is “The Martian’s” most unbelievable premise. That the divided and gloomy United States in which we live would find a way to get behind such an endeavor and allow it to happen. Even though it feels ever so slightly futuristic, it doesn’t feel like any magical technological leaps have been assumed by the storytellers. There’s no warp drive or phasers or sentient computers. Just an extrapolation of things already possible and even familiar applied on a massive scale.
What I loved most about this movie is that it’s basically a two-and-a-half hour showcase for cleverness. It’s like a glass of icy cold water in the desert of denial and outright hostility to science we’ve been crawling through in recent years. It’s a celebration of figuring shit out and not letting hard problems win and having faith in the things we know and can do. It’s about a world reaching for great discoveries for the sake of the discovery. And it’s about the simultaneous fragility and power of a little flicker of life where it doesn’t belong.
I left “The Martian” feeling something recent news and those who make it and even those who tell it have taken from me: optimism. Even inspiration. It’s a reminder of all the great things we’ve accomplished and how close we are to doing even greater things. I hope everyone sees it, especially young people. This is the future I want to live in.