Space has always captured the public’s imagination. The inky black void of space, lit only by the blazing spheres reduced to pinpoints in the distance. The golden gleam of an astronaut’s helmet as sunlight glances off the surface, allowing the space traveler to remain anonymous and retain an air of silent mystery. In both book and movie form, The Martian shatters these previous expectations. More humor than drama and more science than adventure, The Martian explores new territory in more ways than one.
The Bearden Library recently ordered and received a large shipment of brand new books for the library, and The Martian, by Andy Weir, was one of them. The story follows botanist and engineer Mark Watney, who, due to an unprecedented series of events, is left alone on Mars; the lone astronaut faces the nearly indomitable challenge of staying alive for four years amidst the relentless brutality of the Martian environment until he can be rescued.
Never before has a book displayed such a bizarre mix of wit, sarcasm, adventure, irony and drama—complete with what seems to be sound science (at least to a student journalist not currently working for NASA)—and come to such a successful result. Through a clever monologue, even growing potatoes becomes fascinating. And although the reader won’t remember all the theories involved, it is an educational read in that aspect, and a reminder that everything can serve more than one purpose.
The Martian is a unique combination of science and literature. Several times, Weir teeters on the brink of overwhelming the reader with technical explanations, but always comes back with a profound witticism or an extremely sarcastic expletive. The book is full of colorful language, but this just enforces the realism of the novel and the ongoing theme of the book. After all, who wouldn’t have a few choice things to say if they were left on Mars? This is not just the tragedy of a man left alone to die on Mars. This is the tragedy of a man left on Mars and the only entertainment left to him is disco and 70s TV shows. That being said, the novel is extremely realistic—or as realistic as you can get with an expedition currently out of our reach. Equipment fails, accidents happen, and Watney dances with death on a regular basis. He doesn’t just survive because the author doesn’t want to kill off his main character—he survives because he’s a brilliant engineer with a penchant for thinking outside the box. A MacGyver-esque action hero for the ages.
Matt Damon does a truly fantastic job of bringing this character to life on screen. With much of the movie focused on one individual, success hinges largely on that one person’s performance; however, Damon maintains all of Watney’s sarcasm and determination, while also displaying the underlying desperation of a man at his wit’s end, culminating in a captivating character worthy of Weir’s novel.
This being said, the movie version did favor the dramatic side of the story. Alas, they always do. But luckily, The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, wasn’t worse off for it. The film retained the wittiness of its written counterpart and condensed the scientific musings to an interesting series of scenes with the theories intact. A few plot points were altered, but nothing that dramatically changed the story. The film has already been nominated for several Academy Awards.
All in all, The Martian proved that thinking outside of the box is a valued skill, regardless of what planet you’re on.
The Martian is available in hardback and paperback at the Bearden Library, and the film is currently at Redbox.