SPOILERS AHEAD for both the film and book version of The Martian.
I've fallen in love with The Martian this past month. The book and the film are both amazing. And there are a plethora of commentary around why they're so fantastic. The great roles for women, the emphasis on international collaboration, the celebration of science - it's all grand. But I was surprised when the film made a major slip-up in its final moments.
The filmmaker's made a deliberate choice to pursue a PG rated film, which meant some concessions. Mark Watney swears way less. The gentle undercurrent of darkness in which Watney keeps a suicide plan at hand is gone. The machinations of NASA funding and its relationship with Congress is mentioned in passing, but not given the full 'How much is this dude actually worth?' discussion that it does in the book. These are worthwhile compromises when the goal is to create a film that celebrates science for the eleven year olds in the audience. It's a great family film for any kid over eight.
But the film adds an epilogue to further swing this message home to potential young audience members. Mark Watney is back on Earth. The subtitle reads, rather hilariously 'Day One'. Whether Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard meant this to be taken literally or not is unclear, given the previous absolute scientific authority of the subtitles used throughout the film. Nevertheless, it's difficult to believe that Mark stumbled home to Earth and hopped back into a new job ON HIS FIRST DAY. But that's not my problem.
My problem is the next scene, where Mark teaches young and eager minds about the wonders of survival and resilience. It's a lovely happy ending where Watney really carries the messages of the film home. He speaks confidently about his experiences. He is friendly and open. This is my issue. Mark bears no apparent mental scars from enduring over eighteen months of absolute horror. Any notion that Mark is suffering from PTSD is banished. He is SO confident, so at ease in this incredibly public setting, that we even start to believe the subtitle. Maybe this is the first day of Watney's return. Maybe he didn't battle any internal demons whatsoever. He touched down in Houston and went straight into a media tour without even a brief sit down in front of a psychiatrist.
The idea is ludicrous. Mark Watney has no doubt proven himself to be a man of exceptional bravery and willpower, but the idea that he wouldn't be left without even a twinge of anxiety from his lengthy ordeal flies directly in the face of the modern science that the film supposedly celebrates.
Additionally, Scott and Goddard miss out on an important addition to their story of triumph and resilience. It is of course normal and expected that we all must suffer from internal demons after any trauma. For some, these may appear as only slight anxieties. For others, the battles are deeper and darker. All need to be managed. All are valid and normal responses to trauma. And the management indicate the very values of resilience and true bravery.
And, believe me, I know that it would have been hard to include a nod to this in the film's closing moments. They were trying to wrap up the story. They needed it to move along and get to the credits. But it would have only taken one private final breath before he stood up from his park bench - a little nod to his anxiety or nerves about the oncoming day (perhaps a shaky hand, too much?) Or even a question from a young student that punctures his steely resolve, and we see a moment of softness in Matt Damon's beautiful (not to mention highly-trained actor-y) eyes. Or I'm sure there's another solution that the incredible Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard could have conceived that would be much better and so much more compelling.
I still love The Martian. But at best this omission was disappointing. At worst it's potentially damaging to the many thousands of survivors of trauma who won't see their own vulnerabilities reflected in the Watney everyman. A shame in a film that's gone to such length to protect its relationship to scientific truth.