Christian Movie Review
[Note: after you read my review for “The Martian” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Although I would never wish upon anyone the disaster that happens to Mark Watney when he gets stranded on Mars, part of me wishes “The Martian” was based on a true story.
Well, it’s simple: the story is absolutely wonderful. It’s the kind of inspiring story you wish was true. Movies like this are the reason that we go to the movies. You can see a long line of awful movies in a row, and then you see one like “The Martian” and it just restores your faith in the film industry.
I also found this refreshing because A) it’s so different than what Ridley Scott (an atheist or agnostic last we heard from the media) has been doing recently and B) it doesn’t throw a grandiose sermon at you about the supreme awesomeness of the human race and how we are becoming like gods and how we will someday rule the universe and be as great as the Almighty. To be honest, that’s what I was expecting. I was expecting lots of preachy moments — a stoic, taking-ourselves-very-seriously inspirational poster in space.
But “The Martian” doesn’t play that game. It’s just a good old-fashioned survival story (think “The Castaway” in space) that really just wants to have a good time along the way and not get distracted by soapboxes.
And it captures that balance of fun and danger with beautiful precision. (More on all of that in a moment.)
All of that being said, just know that it’s not an all-ages, bring the whole family affair, and here’s why:
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: A male character is seen naked from behind as he changes out of his space suit.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: One scene shows a man who, after an antenna impales his abdomen, performs surgery on himself to remove the pieces and patch himself up. It shows the surgery up close and in person — quite detailed and very realistic. If detailed surgical images — i.e. like those live surgery shows on TV — have ever made you squeamish and/or sick to your stomach, you may want to close your eyes during the surgery scene. In other scenes we see a man with all sorts of wounds — bruises, scars, burns — all over his body from his months of grueling survival.
Language: Two f-words spoken. Several written f-words on computer screens but not fully spelled out. Several other swear words scattered throughout (a few s-words). God’s name used several times.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
The film is special because it’s hilarious. Yes, this is absolutely a space drama/thriller with plenty of stress-you-out moments of impending disaster. But it also a joyous comedy. And somehow the comedy — executed to perfection by Matt Damon — makes the film more believable. In such an extreme situation — a man finding himself marooned on a deserted planet millions of light years from home — it’s very likely that the man would do all he can to find levity and humor in every moment to, at the very least, keep his spirits up and stay sane.
Themes of Redemption, Speculation about the Film’s Worldview
In one scene, Mark Watney the astronaut stranded on Mars, is looking for flammable objects that he can use to create fire for one of his solutions to his survival dilemma. He finds a fellow astronaut’s wooden Crucifix. Watney uses a knife to carve off a few small shavings from the side of the Cross to help start the fire, and he looks at Jesus and says, “Given my current circumstances, I’m sure you won’t mind. I’m counting on you.”
It’s mostly meant as a moment of humor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could find some deeper meaning there — though I’m not sure it’s enough to build a cohesive theory about what kind of specific worldview fuels this film, if any.
And I won’t say too much because I won’t give any spoilers away, but there are heavy themes of redemption in this film. As I mentioned in the intro, although it’s extremely inspiring to see so many brilliant people work together for a common good, this movie isn’t really a chest-pounding, “Behold the human race, we have become like the Most High and are the lords of the universe,” type of humanism-on-steroids affair. The film goes out of its way to show our frailties, our moments of pure (and hilarious) stupidity, and our desperate need for grace — i.e. unmerited favor. Sure, you can argue that Watney earned the favor and help of the world by his amazing exploits and undeterred sense of humor, but he was also a recipient of unmerited kindness — people (and other countr
ies who had nothing to gain) risking their lives or vast amounts of resources to save him when they really had nothing to gain from it and everything to lose.
Conclusion: One of the Best Movies Ever Made. Period.
In terms of pure film craft, storytelling, and the execution of the story, “The Martian” is one of the best movies ever made. I think history will bear that out.
It’s also a wonderfully inspiring, endearing story that, like astronaut Mark Watney, will disarm you with its never-give-up humor, its inspiring portrait of grace, and the simple joy of being alive against a backdrop of impossible adversity.
My rating for “The Martian”: [usr 9.5] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read our editor Kevin’s new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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