When the Oscar nominees were announced last week I noted that I had not seen any of the films in the Best Picture category (or most other nominated films for that matter).
If I was ambitious, or had more time, I would make it my mission to see all the nominees before the awards are handed out next month. I’m not ambitious, and if I had the time to watch movies I would have seen the films when they were in the theatre.
But this past weekend I had a chance to watch The Martian, which is nominated for best picture (and Matt Damon is nominated for best actor). Even not having seen any of the other films, I know this one is a strong contender. The story captures the imagination and Damon does deliver an excellent performance, truly Oscar-worthy.
As someone who has read hundreds, maybe thousands of science fiction novels (and probably seen hundreds of movies in the genre) I am always wary about seeing a new sci-fi film. I am not a science geek, but I do like the science in such movies to be somewhat plausible. All too often science loses out to story. That is okay, I like story, except why use science fiction as your medium if you don’t care about science fact?
Perhaps the most famous example of that is from the first Star Wars movie. Han Solo, in explaining how fast his spaceship can travel, proudly proclaims it made the “Kessel run in 12 parsecs.” For those who don’t know, a parsec is a unit of distance, not time. And yes, the line is repeated in the latest in that series, The Force Awakens, I presume to poke fun at itself.
Can you grow potatoes on Mars? I suppose so. Certainly the attempt in The Martian seems to make scientific sense. Or that was my impression anyway – science hasn’t been my strong suit since tenth grade.
Matt Damon’s portrayal of an astronaut marooned on Mars trying to stay alive seemed pretty credible. Astronauts tend to be the best and the brightest, who are then superbly trained for their mission. Nothing that he did seemed to me to be outside what you would expect of someone of that calibre – as long as you could accept that they were refusing to give up and face the inevitability of death.
My wife is not a big science fiction fan. In order to convince her to watch the film, my daughter told her it was a true story. I don’t think she believed her, but on a Friday night after a long work week it is amazing what people will believe.
Yet in a way The Martian is true, in that it expresses certain truths about humans. And about God. The idea of millions, perhaps billions of dollars being spent in a rescue mission for one marooned man does not make economic sense. Nor is it rational that so many people would sacrifice (and in some cases risk their lives) to try to bring Damon’s character home.
According to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” If people really believed that, The Martian would never have been made. Such logic would dictate that Damon’s character would be left stranded.
When you think about it though, this is not a story about an astronaut marooned on Mars. It is a retelling of a story I first heard when I was a child. It went something like this:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-7New International Version (NIV)
The story of the lost sheep is an allegory for the relationship between God and humanity, a reminder of God’s love. The Martian is just the latest retelling.