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“The Martian” Ponders Humour and Existentialism

What? Matt Damon is an astronaut again? This isn’t an “Interstellar” sequel right? Thankfully, Damon isn’t the bad guy this time and he’s thoroughly likeable. He’s also trapped 140 million miles from home. Oops.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is a botanist and astronaut in an international team on a manned mission to Mars. But the mission is jeopardised when a Martian sandstorm comes a-calling, encroaching towards the team’s base of operations with skin-flaying force.

Facing the insurmountable threat, the 6-man team is forced to leave. However, the trek towards the spaceship goes awry and Watney is walloped by a flying satellite dish and is sent flying off into space. Unable to locate his person, the team opts to take off sans one teammate.

As the trailer might have mentioned, Watney is very much alive and is now faced with a dire problem: how to survive on an inhospitable planet.

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Frankly, we were concerned when Matt Damon was revealed to play Watney. He wasn’t the most expressive character in the “Bourne” franchise and he wasn’t exactly amazing in “Elysium” either. But Damon pulls through with “The Martian“, delivering an enthralling performance as our very much alone protagonist.

Watney’s cocksure attitude and jocularity melds well with his single-minded determination to conquer the fourth planet. Exuding infectious charisma, you just can’t dislike him as he tries his hardest to survive on guile alone. Seeing Watney’s physical deterioration into a haggard shadow of his former well-built self also adds further sympathy for him.

It’s refreshing to see a film about space adopt a different tone, straying away from the default melancholy and existentialism to focus on a story’s human element. Thusly, “The Martian” is utterly captivating and totally doesn’t feel like a 141-minute-long flick. Despite our bursting bladders, we sat through the whole compelling storyline, unwilling to miss a moment.

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Whilst Watney is the main character, the side characters offer plenty too. From his verbal sparring partner and team mate, Rick Martinez (Michael Peña); to the brilliant mastermind of Watney’s resuce plan, Rich Purnell (Donald Glover); side characters aren’t relegated to the side-lines, injecting more personality to the film.

“The Martian” is a visual spectacle with many scenes being perfect wallpapers. Long panning shots of the desolate yet hauntingly beautiful Mars-scape poignantly emphasise Watney’s bleak and lonely situation. Though we did say the film deviates from pretentious existentialism, there are melancholic movements tastefully sprinkled in as Watney introspects about his fate.

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But whilst we laud “The Martian”, no film is bereft of shortcomings. We wish the film explored more of the psychological well-being (or deconstruction) of Watney as the only man on Mars. Human beings are social creatures who want for company and seeing Watney deal with his loneliness adds extra depth to the tale.

The whole public relations and media fuss brought up by NASA’s directors after discovering Watney’s fate also feels forced and plastered on. It does add some conflict, but we winced at certain portions of the unfolding fiasco.

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One last question too: Did Watney keep shaving in the first 200 or so days when he was on the planet alone? He’s clean-shaven until they cut forward 7 months!

“The Martian” is a touching and inspiring tale of man’s defiance in the face of adversity, elements that surprised this writer with its enjoyment value. While “Interstellar” leaves you reeling with its heavy ethical themes and pseudo-sciences, turn to this space film for a good ol’ serving of undiluted human spirit.

DANamic.ORG Rating: 4.5/5


“The Martian” lands in Singapore theatres on 1st October 2015.

 

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Manfred Tham

Metal is my jam and anything about video games, alcohol or films is a good conversation starter with me. Also a massive nerd.

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