It’s only when the credits rolled on The Martian after its Toronto International Film Festival debut that I remembered Drew Goddard wrote the script. And then I thought to myself, Oh, right, this all makes sense now. Goddard, who co-wrote and directed the infinitely self-aware The Cabin in the Woods, brings a self-aware, lighthearted approach to The Martian … which maybe shouldn’t be too surprising, but then you remember that this is a movie about a man hopelessly stranded on a desolate planet, directed by Ridley Scott. At no point did I expect The Martian to be “fun,” but it’s surprisingly (and sort of weirdly) just that.
Based on Andy Weirs’ popular book of the same name, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist who winds up stranded on the planet Mars after the rest of his crew thinks he’s been killed. Watney has limited resources and will surely die before any rescue mission could possibly launch. (Traveling to Mars is tricky because Earth and Mars orbit at different speeds around the sun, a mission can only really be launched when the two planets line up.) But, being a botanist comes in handy: using his own excrement (gross) to fertilize potatoes, he extends his lifespan considerably – at least long enough for an actual rescue mission to be attempted.
Yes, a movie like Cast Away comes to mind while watching The Martian. Whereas Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland is a relative idiot in terms of how to survive in the wilderness – remember, building a fire was a huge accomplishment; enough for that to be ever-present in all the marketing for Cast Away — Watney is a legitimate genius. He knows things and can do things that you or I would never know how to do. It was simpler to relate to Chuck Noland because it was easy to put ourselves in his shoes and probably make a lot of the same mistakes. It’s almost impossible to relate to Matt Damon’s Mark Watney because YOU might be a genius botanist, but I am not a genius botanist.