Clenching the Nomination - The Martian - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Clenching the Nomination – The Martian

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Andrew discusses the scene in Ridley Scott's The Martian that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2016 here.

Clenching The MartianScience as a popular subject has been making a roaring comeback over the last few years.  We have a whole slew of new television and internet personalities who love talking about science as much as they love entertaining.  The notes of condescension the horrific New Atheist movement brought to international discourse have been largely discarded in favor of friendly scientists.  There's a note of optimism around science and new discoveries I haven't felt in a long time, and it gives me hope that we are progressing in the right direction as a country.

The success of Ridley Scott's The Martian is more a byproduct of our "Yay for science!" moment than fuel for it.  It boasts a compelling and mostly solo performance from Matt Damon, a lot of science chat delivered by a slew of excellent character actors, and varied direction from Scott to keep the one performer focus fresh.  The most popular line, by far, to emerge from The Martian's success is when Mark Watney (Damon) says that, in order to survive, "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this."

It's an amusing line but reads, and is performed, more like a zinger to an internet audience than a declaration of the power of science.  The moment where The Martian really clicked in with me is a moment of humility communicated in a briefer line.  Roughly thirty minutes into The Martian, Watney has created a small farm in his cramped living quarters.  The labor which went into creating the farm goes through a number of stylistic turns from Scott.  Watney is seen as a glitch from the tracking issues of the Mars base cameras, he's filmed in a time lapsed states while he works on the farm, and - in a shot straight out of Looney Tunes - emerges smoking and scarred from his attempt to light hydrogen to produce water.

After all the funny trial and error we come to a moment of pure wonder.  Watney sees the fruits of his labor in the form of a tiny budding potato plant.  With a gentle touch, he grazes the small green leaves and says, "Hello, there."  Damon delivers the line barely above a whisper while Scott cuts from a closeup of the plant to a matching closeup of Damon's face.

There's great humility in this scene.  Watney says hello to the plant because it's the first living thing he's seen in just a shade under two months.  He's created life on a planet which doesn't seem capable of it.  The matching closeups of the plant and Watney underscore the miracle of both their existences.  Scott's decision to not witness this moment through the on-base cameras is important, as the impossible man meets the impossible plant and is humbled by the life he brought into existence.

Scott is at his best when directing characters who are humbled by their circumstances.  This ranges from harrowing, as the commanders of Black Hawk Down realize the gravity of the helicopter crash, to the inspiring, as in the epilogue of Matchstick Men which shows how the love shared between two characters transcends blood relation.  It's this moment of humility which grounds The Martian, a humility which is echoed in the screenplay's somewhat old fashioned story structure.  The boastful lines about the power of science are all fine and entertaining, but it's this idea that we can still gaze into the abyss and find seeds of life that gives The Martian it's legs.  The Academy awarded this humanism with a Best Picture nomination and, who knows, maybe it will emerge from the ceremony with more awards than its tiny chances indicate.

After all, it would be in good company with Watney.

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Posted by Andrew

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