Space in the 1970s, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, was ‘the final frontier’. Star Trek’s cocky command showed the beast of developmental modernism raging for an imagined elsewhere after our earth had been largely tamed for unimpeded development. To this end the American flag now flew on the moon, as it was dreamed it would, planet by planet. Colonial modernism eternal.
“The Martian” shows this machinery of progress stretched to breaking point. Clearly from the title we get there. But once there, Murphy’s Law applies. The multiple technical and operational systems required to sustain life on a low-oxygen cold desert simply find things too hard. One line goes: “you have to solve one problem, then another, then another, or you die.”
So what it concentrates on is the human capacity to solve problems. Not as in 2001: A Space Odyssey way. And the survivalist threat to life isn’t Mad Max or Waterworld-scale naff. You should see it because the teams cooperate. NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs, the astronauts, and the physicists work like they’re caught in a hybrid of MATHEX and The Block.
There are no aliens, no romance, no guns, no car chases, no nipples, no spies, no one gets married, there’s no fights, minimal interpersonal drama, not a single bikini-jam, and the jokes are restrained. Mothers, take your daughters. Jessica Chastain, thank you again.
You should see it because it’s the 2015 version of modernism. Every large problem needs more than one superpower to fix. Every modernist drive towards progress get so, so brittle now. We may be marginal, but we’re still good to go.
OK, the narrative clues are given away by goddam French horns. And sure, Gravity’s cinematography creams this job. Jeff Daniels (ex The Newsroom) is a log of stentorian wood. Plus, no alien bursts out of anyone’s stomach. Sigh.
Go there if you want your kids to get excited about science, problem-solving, teamwork, and brittle-state modernism.
There’s also, finally, resolution in the face of death that any polar explorer or major infrastructure team leader would express: “I’m dying for something big, and beautiful, and greater than me.”
Take that to heart, and go see it.