Hands down, the best movie theater experience I’ve ever had.
Sci-fi royalty Ridley Scott’s’ latest space voyage did not disappoint. The Martian — starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover (holy shit) — epitomizes the term “modern classic.” It gets its two major themes of unrelenting determination and human bravery across gracefully and without any integrity-damaging clichés, an accomplishment that continuously eludes many filmmakers who embark upon such a journey. That’s the difference between this film and Independence Day, for me (that’s not to say that the latter doesn’t hold a special place in my heart).
I left the theater with the stupidest grin on my face. The film’s humor was the beautiful element that made it exceptional, not only in the simple sense of making the film more enjoyable, but also in the sense that it unquestionably aided Damon’s performance — otherwise, I doubt his sheer optimism would have been nearly as believable. The humor lightened the mood for us and kept us believing that Mark Watney was going to do the impossible. Far from falling into the category of comedic-relief-humor, The Martian might actually get nominated for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes next year. When Watney practically blows himself up and goes I flying across the hab, I cried with laughter. When Watney intentionally goes to town with expletives in an inter-planet online chat that is being streamed worldwide, I cried with laughter.
Yet, when he begins to sob at the realization that he is finally going home, I actually cried with him. That is textbook for damn good film-making; capturing a vast range of emotions in one film with authenticity. Depending on how this year’s Oscar season plays out, Damon might even navigate his way to an acting nom, having absolutely carried this film, despite the phenomenal supporting performances he received. His delivery of the endless stream of brilliantly hilarious dialogue was masterful and something I have yet to see from him since 1997’s Good Will Hunting. On top of that, Damon was the perfect selection for this role. The filmmakers needed someone genuine, someone who an audience could really get behind. Who better than Matt Damon? Tom Hanks is too old for this role, and he already did Cast Away, anyway. This film kinda is like a cross between that and Apollo 13.
Between the script (somebody get Drew Goddard a goddamn medal or something) and Damon’s performance, I completely fell in love with the character of Mark Watney. He is incredibly interesting because he is so brave, so tenacious, because he does not hesitate, because of how intelligent he is. Not to mention, he displayed some remarkable dancing ability while listening the Jessica Chastain’s collection of disco records. I desperately want to meet this guy, pick his brain, listen to him tell his story. I want to model myself after this amazing, amazing man. That’s another testament to the fact that this film is legitimately a fantastic piece of cinema. Establishing a character who the audience can become invested in to the point where they feel the full range of emotions that character is experiencing, from pain to hopefulness to unimaginable stress to fear and finally to joy and a relief powerful enough to bring you to tears… the talents of so many people are required to pull something of that quality off make it extremely rare to find.
I struggle to conjure in my mind another film as light-hearted and optimistic that deserves such high praise as a new installment in the world of fine art. There, of course, are countless lovely films that myself and many others thoroughly enjoy, but these are infrequently counted among the great cinematic specimens. Each aspect of this film is expertly and meticulously crafted. Goddard’s screenplay, with its tremendous element of wittiness yet inspiring bravery and optimism, is impeccable, performances around the clock are utterly fantastic from Damon to Bean, the film looks extraordinary, from the Martian deserts to the vast majesty of outer space, even the soundtrack is totally spot on. All helmed by the great Ridley Scott in his triumphant return to actually good movie-making (what the hell was he thinking with Exodus: Gods and Kings).
As previously noted, The Martian is a modern-classic. It will be remembered and revered for its themes, enjoy-ability and masterful craftsmanship. It could even go down as Damon’s finest hour in a career of endless fine hours. With the great weight of the insurmountable unlikelihood of his own survival crushing him, he battles step by step to dig himself out of the bottomless pit that he has found himself in. Even when there seems like there is no hope at all, his mentality remains, his lust for life is forever intact, he will not stop trying until he is either dead or has succeeded. Mark Watney does the impossible and gives us a new iconic character to think about while struggling to finish our mile-long runs on the treadmill. Fuck you, Mars.