The Martian as Measure Of All Things

Posted: 18 October 2015 in Cultural, On the Pilgrim's Road
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The Martian gardener

Every film has a world view.  Every film.  Some are so obvious that to call theirs a “World View” is to give “The World” a bad name.  “The Martian” has one and it’s not subtle.  Man As Hero.  Could say “human as hero” but this film is largely bloky in tenor if not in casting.  I was going out on a date, and the other half enjoyed the drama, the panorama, and just the niceness of “going out”. As I did.

No spoilers here – Matt Damon does what Matt Damon usually does and he does it well.  The film looks good.  It is easy to hear too (not too much woosh and bang).  There is humour as well as drama – just watch the trailer and it’ll tell you all you need to know.

If the film tackled serious issues and heavy emotional freight – it all ended up on the cuttings floor.  Stranded, alone with no realistic prospect of rescue – only a few tears?  Prospect of a cold and lonely slow death – not a traumatic prospect?  Alone for a very very long time – replays of The Fonz sufficing for company.  Really?  Complaining about old disco music was our hero’s only gripe.  And muttering about growing spuds from his own excreta.  (Well they did it in Japanese POW camps too.  Be glad for the food).  Family and friends get no mention till a passing reference to mom’n’dad.  OK – he’s a geek.  But he is a human, not Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The ethics of: trying to launch a rescue mission versus using the money to eradicate malaria in the world – no mention.  The moral equation: risk of losing many more astronauts versus saving one – silence.  Yes, there are good arguments on both sides that teenage viewers too would appreciate in passing in this fun adventure film.  But no – the focus is narrow.

If the inner world is very narrow, the outer world is muted too.  There is very little sense of natural wonder.  The landscapes are great, yes they are.  But often they are used to highlight our hero’s magnificence by showing his smallness in the red desert vastness.  We get one frightful storm, but couldn’t we seen more of it?  Or other ones with frightening fury?  The space craft are excellent, with the usual close flyby the viewer, again to give a sense of size of human engineers triumphs.  The focus is on man.  Space doesn’t seem very spacey.  Our hero says he is in awe of it, but we are given little time to share in his wonder or see him in his wonder, which of course cinema has excellent capacity for.

As for God, The Beyond, or other usual filmic metaphysics – virtually nothing.  Just our hero’s irritation at the prospect of his own demise.  We see him find a wooden crucifix in Martinez’s kit, as much a cultural than religious reference.  He then breaks it up to make fire and apologises to the tiny wooden figure – more a gesture to Mid-Western cinema goer sensitivities than expression of faith.  Then a passing reference to God or gods at an essential launch of a supply rocket.  Well the God/gods must have had a momentary lapse of listening at that point.  Director Ridley Scott doesn’t do much in the God/gods line, nice – or nasty.  He managed to shrivel The Divine in Exodus into a scruffy “Artful Dodger”.

The key focus is on the hero keeping focussed.  And you keeping focussed.  Then you can overcome all things.  No “Otherness”, no trauma.  Man is the measure of all things and all things can be fixed if you try hard enough.  A humanist message with a cheery Matt Damon smile, and cheers all round.



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