TIFF 2015 Review: The Martian
Not surprisingly, the first word out of the mouth of astronaut Mark Watney, after making his way to shelter, tending to a wound, and accepting he has been left alone on Mars, is an expletive.
It’s a combination of funny and tragic, but far more the former; perhaps that’s the only way to face abandonment. A mission to the red planet ended abruptly, and with Mark presumed dead in a storm, his crew left. A memorial on Earth followed.
But he’s alive, and full of piss and vinegar. It’s MacGyver on Mars as Matt Damon’s self-aware survivor plots to grow food, save resources, connect with NASA, and drive across the planet to a supply drop. He does so with exuberance and charm. Watney conveniently enters video blogs all along the way, talking to himself but thankfully to us, mixing information and humour. There are hexadecimals, radioactive isotopes, and thrusters, but there is also the magnetism of Damon and the visual beauty and perfect pacing of Ridley Scott’s direction.
The Martian is cheeky, waiting to play David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ as long as possible; it’s that type of grand, accessible fun. A stellar cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, and Jeff Daniels as a curmudgeonly idealistic NASA director, leads this high-end spectacle and space rescue.
Underneath the barren red landscapes of Mars and some stunning space maneuvers is a story that triumphs optimism, intelligence, and determination, neither obtrusively overt nor cryptically subtle. It’s not science, but science fiction; after all, are we really to believe NASA got funding for all this?