Monday, October 5, 2015

On Not Really Liking The Martian

I wasn't that into The Martian, which is another way of saying that I like space movies that emphasize romanticism over the actual science.  I've never been into hard science fiction.  I like the idea of a good science-fiction novel getting the science right as a means of creating a more fully-realized world, in the same way I really like the research Philip Roth puts into glove-making to make American Pastoral work.  I don't like it when interesting facts and well-considered hypotheses become the engine for the story.

I'm missing the point, of course.  Everyone else loves the movie.  They like the lack of Interstellar-level pseudo-intellectualism.  They like its humor.  (I would like its humor too if I thought it was funny.  Disco in space!  Saying the F-word to the whole wide world for even the president to hear! Wow, this guy is no goody-good John Glenn. )  They like the joyful space adventure and the charming personalities.  It entertained me.  I liked it better than I've liked any of the last 7 years' worth of superhero movies, but that's about it.

At one point in the movie Matt Damon declares that he's the best botanist on the planet.  He's alone in this giant wasteland, but the movie never makes him feel alone.  He finds a means of communicating with Earth, and the sense of isolation which drives most people literally insane only seems to energize and excite him.  And this is how the movie started to make sense to me.  Here is the man alone against an astonishing landscape, a landscape he doesn't pay attention to, and all he wants to do is stare at seeds, to make potatoes grow.  He seems detached from the starvation he suffers.  It's just another problem that needs to be solved.  Of course, he wants to survive, but he's less interested in the goal of survival then he seems to be in the process of making it happen, in sciencing the shit out of Mars.   He doesn't come face-to-face with the Lord.  He doesn't come face-to-face with the Devil or himself.  He comes face-to-face with just a few creative ideas to make Mars work for humans.

So many of the early astronauts became alcoholics or born-again Christians.  They had seen too much.  Neil Armstrong was an exception.  Like Damon in the film, he became a scientist and a humble teacher. He was the first man in the moon and he didn't have anything interesting to say about, at least nothing that would be interesting to a science illiterate.  Like Damon, he didn't linger on the landscapes or the grandeur of space.  This would have been his kind of movie.

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