Ridley Scott's "The Martian": HOT POTATO IN A JACKET or How do you make Veggies kool*?

By Nataranjan Bohidar

Future generations will most likely believe, given our penchant for revisionism, or retro-visionism, if you like, which is a way of looking at the future through our rear view mirror, that Neil Armstrong was indeed one of the greatest actors of all times, making that moon walk of his on a dusty surface in slow motion in the dim light of day-night, the koolest ever, in the Nasawood black and white era, when the dinosauric radio ruled India and we only heard and read about the moon strut, (although Mrs. Indira Gandhi stayed up late into the night, at great expense of much needed political sleep, to watch the event on perhaps the only B&W TV available in India in that Bangladesh-had-not-been-invented era or so we heard on radio at that time),  because he, Neil Armstrong,  that is, most exceptionally mimicked the great astronaut Matt Damon, who in full blown color and 3-D, too, almost half a century later showed the world what it is actually to live on Mars, not for a flashy NASA arm-twisted “I hear & obey you” Houstonic moment or two on a nearby satellite of the Earth, but more than a year on a planet that’s an impossible 50 to 400 to 225 million kms close and away depending on which of these distances it takes our advances in science four years to reach, Earthly 365 and not SOL-ly 668 speaking!

And wonder of wonders , we saw it all, on large cinema screens in our very own neighborhoods, with full throttle unimaginably clear sounds , the crackle & wheeze of long distance transmission airbrushed in and out depending on the real life drama and dramatis personae of the situation. Which is why the thespian Neil merely got a statue at Purdue for his acting talent (picture attached) whereas Matt, some years after Neil’s death, on terra firma, went on to win the highest award for colonizing an entire planet and not just parts of it as mere mortals have done for ages on Earth – the Outer Space Cool Astronaut Returns award (aka the OSCAR, the pics of which are awaited) .

Neil Armstrong's statue at Purdue, his alma mater
But , of course, he had a pseudonym, Matt had, Mark Watney it was, because these trysts with modern day space required such high confidentiality that the real name of the buccaneer adventurer pirate conqueror colonizer vigilante, if you like, could not be revealed to the world (although the CSSSSRS would ferret it out but not destroy the secret, and assist instead in our brave new world of astro-dynamic co-operation)… unlike the manner in which historians had been so blatant and destructive in naming Columbus, Walter Raleigh, Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Genghis Khan, Alexander, Pro-myth-ius, Robert Clive, Johnny Depp/Captain Sparrow, Bruce Batman  and giving them a bad name subsequently, for being buccaneer adventurer pirate conqueror colonizer vigilante, when they could have helped them to not blow their cover by simply giving them a pen name. (Sorry, what was that? Oh, you want to know what that stands for… Well, it’s the Chinese Super Secret Space Scientists’ Reciprocal Services, CSSSSRS, that has absolutely no connection with an erstwhile Soviet state with plenty of SS’s in it, too, because this new one thumbs its knows down and nose up and don’t knows up & down at its own govt., which is part of the new development over the 33 years since “Blade Runner” was launched… Big Brother may still be watching, but is now being even bigger bothered and bullied by the underlings it is meant to keep a watch on… command and control appears to have been rudely reversed by flesh and blood expletives churning humans who have totally “scienced the shit” out of the once terrifying replicants. Interestingly, there are no visible interfering obnoxious toxic AIs in “The Martian”.)

Identity crisis : Matt Damon as Jason Bourne aka David Webb
But then in the ancient days of Neil Armstrong the CIA had not been discovered or to be exact the CIA had not discovered that David Webb could be a great hit, man, (pun intended) if he was called Jason Bourne, which are two ids, not one, that Matt juggled brilliantly and serially to earn him the credentials to go boldly forth to where no man had gone before, which is to Mars, after a short stint of high testosterone low self-esteem conquering training on Planet Icy Cold Heart of Mann, and then return, to educate budding astronauts at Nasawood to follow his space-steps – a small one for Matt Mars-man, a huge leap for Matt Mars-kind - and not return to destroy his training centre at Langley! Which is really such an improvement in optimizing training costs… (Hope you are listening Smriti HR Irani, else you can have a word or two with Vince Hindu Baptist Kapoor on Skilling India without killing it).

Matt Damon as cold-hearted Mann in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar
Oh, yes, both Neil and Matt did return to Earth, but wow what  a return was that, my country men, nay Earthmen, for Matt, bordering on the fatal, but not Kubrikan amniotic sealed fetal, nor Nolanian tesseractic tele-postal, compared to which Neil’s was as tame as dishwater in which you may have washed a potato or two before pouring it down the drain, which is why the rush is on to watch the miraculous draining of toilet water that Matt recycles to solid food fuel himself his return to earth, among other cyclical turns and twists, slingshots and roundabouts , accompanied by bangs and blasts, most of it despite Big Brother Nasaawood’s ban and bar of such inflammatory violence in peaceful space – with some ironmanian references (more heavy metal welding and bombing) and Jessica Chastain’s commanding ironladian soft corner - that make “The Martian”  a must see and a sea not of emotion as was “Interstellar” but ocean of swim and leap frog as in heavy sandy raspy bullock laden “Gravity”, but beyond the burden of bearing the Mexican cross for humanity, which is reduced to its combustible functionality, even as Mark Watney aka Matt Damon eschews the divine, and screams frustration in a phonetic version that stops just short of taking His name, which in a godless universe would have, indeed, been in vain.

Exquisite Texture of Mars surface in Ridley Scott's The Martian
We are here simply transported to a world of human self-service, a DIY, that light weight Ikea may have liked to sponsor, without any philosophical underpinnings, or humanitarian purpose, no heavy metal nor heavy mental objective, except to collect two inches of not ivory but dust marsample, and for the adventure and the danger and the experience and the experiment in survival, and the survival itself, and the adventure alone and more of it the more you survive, enjoying every bit of it in the face of certain, perhaps death, but essentially in and on a Ridley Scott exquisite texture and surface and feel of an entire planet carved out on two inches of Mars’ colored red ivory a patachitra landscape ominously wondrous internecine intestinal, cavernous and canyony, gorgey and gorgeous, undulating flat and trailing, teethy and tailing, bitey and chewy raw, gnawing at your entrails, challenging us to explore, openly seductive and soul attracting such that Mark’s repeated  “go have sex with yourself” takes on a completely new meaning! And he isn’t referring to torrid leather goddesses of Phobos, either.

Futuristic LA in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner 33 years ago
As do SOL, soul, sole-ful for the boot stamping leg work, mender of soles, anyone? that take on reborn meaningfulness and not just the mental masturbation, solitude, solus, lone , alone, and cravings such as to wean you away from your own sun orbit , to another very desirable SOL-ution system. It is the kind of magic only Ridley Scott can create having seen him do it , vertical  and horizontal, too, to his L.A. of the future, decadent decrepit deadly burning combustible fires of deception but entirely desirable! 

And this is where he beats Nolan’s universurface… that, while Nolan finds a new planet for us, his love for planet earth simply never deserts him… the new planet, he finds, is, well, second class… not as good as earth lekin chalega or chaleble, as the pidgin goes… you have to make do with it… under the cajoling compromising “earth is where the heart is” self-serving anagrammatic slogan… that legerdemain works for Nolan, even when your heart is not in the new planet... but not with Ridley Scott. Ridley makes Mars so desirable that even when he abandons it our heart wants to go back to explore it… again… and again… re-turn at the cost of our destruction… we are drawn to it as the moth to the candle… except that looking out of the HAB window where marooned Mark, without the trace of a Robinson Crusoe anywhere or any other AI, languishes, on the surface of his adventure-adrenaline-pumping planet, we notice flakes of Martian dust like night flies drawn to him, to bury him in indestructible death! Which shama, who parwana?

Traveling light : NASA's Mars Rover in Ridley Scott's The Martian
Perhaps that is the reason why Ridley Scott is such a dangerous film maker… he makes you fall in love with your raw passion… at the cost of giving up your life for it… and he is more often than not value-neutral. He knows this and therefore his clarion call… the strap line of his movie… for heaven’s sake, nay, for his own sakes, bring him back, bring back the Martian, before he so falls in love with Mars , becomes so Martian, such a self-sufficient Mars colonizing Martian loner, that he will simply end up refusing to be rescued. (And then there is deep unconfirmed suspicion that Nasawood may have the funds for a one way ticket to the Red planet and this is their shot at finding the rest of the money! Else, there are teeming numbers amongst us who are ready to take a trip to Mars to never return). 

This is the greater tension in the movie… the pull forward and back… backwards and fore… like the string attached to the yo yo… this is why there is no serious human love interest in the movie… you fall so in love with Mars! Jessica Chastain does not even get that one kiss in this movie that she got in “Interstellar” (which proves to me that actresses in Hollywood are not it for the love making and the kisses such as our Bolywoodiennes who are yearning for the kiss that they must not want!) And yet you have to, should want to, return! (This is where Christopher Nolan makes his big mistake as per Nasawood… his protagonist returns without having to spend a pie… in fact, spiritually speaking, he never left! Puppet strings, everywhere?)

The whole package : Mark Watney is stranded all by himself on Mars
Hark, the word ‘string’ jerks us back to reality… you have to pull the Martian turning human back… and a queen on a pearly white throne, (notes of heraldry ringing in her head, interspersed with hot love yearning… the music scores not a patch on Hans Zimmer, but neatly patched to make the Scotty point), with more gumption than a white knight, must assay forth to rescue her Walter, sorry, Watney, tied as she is with mother - or is it brother?- ship, the big brother bureaucrats, the string pullers, the funding agencies watching her, with red tape in hand…that both binds and gags as also gives her the security even as she wrenches out the authority, abandons the dictatorial Earth powers,  to decide to go off on a spatial limb to allow her admiration worthy botanist and admirer ,too, to literally jump into her arms.(Her taste in music may suck, but not her astro-command and astro-commendable intent). The result is touch and go and stay and slow and bow and wow a mass of red ribbon that is all knotted up but looked again, oh, this is no Gordian’s knot of “Gravity”, but such a fragile red petalled flower, whorls on whorls, embroidered turns and twists, no less, but pretty pretty pretty as an origamic red ribbon on a little girl’s hair-black head, which is space, indeed.

E.T. go home: anxiety writ large on marooned Mark Watney's face
You’d think Ridley Scott, Knighted Sir, no less, has come a long way to his Keatsian mellowed fruitfulness, accepting tape and tarp, in place of heavy metal,(in music, too), but no one can escape one’s very own imagery, particularly if it is you who have created and planted it in your own head, that ties you to your very own subconscious, consciously controlled. Hark back to the sequence where Mark Watney, his soft armor, aka space suit, pierced by a harder steel (an antennae remnant, the communication irony of it! And there are many such entertaining ironies moving back and forth in space-time) staggers back into his Mars habitat and abandoned by all else, strips off layers and layers of body packaging, before he reaches the core of his pierced abdomen, that he proceeds to - while staring at his own surgical adventure in a focused mirror - torture and puncture and anaesthetize and self-cure, to reasonable satisfaction.

Green house on the red planet: Astronaut Watney grows potatoes on Mars
He is no surgeon, but his approximation will do. You are your own maker and mendicant, and medical man, even if you are a whatever specialist, wherever, and in which ever field. Survival is an instinctive approximate, sometimes proxy, sometimes proximate. And an approximation will do. Mark Watney is a botanist and an approximation will grow him his potatoes on Mars to a precision… and he will survive the erratic precision of his dated life, calculated millions of kilometers away, many years back, by earthlings who wish to be martians but will never get there because they do not have the courage to act on their approximations, such as Mark will! And his commander will… (Is that what Nasawood is petitioning for? Of course, we will be precise… but that is only a pre… so, when the event rolls out we must be pre-pared to risk and roll… and live to fight another risk and roll… Falstaff, anyone? Discretion the better part of valor may be, but valor and discretion must take turns working together, not so much on the risk, but on the risk perception)      

Mark Watney with the crew of Ares III: future knight in armour
Acting together, connected in a spiritual way, Mark the mouth & his Commander the mouth moderator, with their hearts in their mouths, their embedded valor: discretion quotient, will eventually work on their gut feel applied to the perceived risk bubble…estimate how much is real, how much surreal, how much bubble pack? What the core, what the co-packaging! Pierce it and you may die, pierce it and, well, you may fly!

We are all hot hot hot potatoes under that seemingly fragile skin, that jacket material that covers our raw insides… and so, as below, so above… or is it the other way round? The planetary skein and the rocketry skein… how much skin, how much yarn (pun intended)? Just how much protection, how much packaging, do we require? How much of it is critical to life, how much just baggage? Ridley Scott riddles again…we are not all naked in the universe… so, how much we want to further cover up is entirely up to us. Nature and nurture. It is the same old debate, in a new package. And those who sneak out the truth… steal it for the good of the mission called mankind, may no more end up having their entrails chewed up by savage beasts and birds by day to grow them again at night to be chewed again by day… but, instead, may actually be rewarded,  unchained, set free, to go play, or teach , or train, say golf ?! Or how to get to Mars next!

Mark Watney: colonizing Mars or Prometheus stealing Mars secrets?
Because of the inside ingrained heat, combustion is a given… blasts will happen and blasts will speed you into space and speed you down, too. Of course, what you blow out and when may not always be in our hands… a hot blow can freeze your agriculture to death… another one can bring your astronaut out of the cold… decisions have to be made in the heat of the moment with steely cold nerves… the trick is to find the right temperatures! Whether on earth or on Mars…    

Watch ream upon reams of footage showing Mark Watney taping and tarping, stripping and insulating, packing and loading, rationalizing rationalizing, rationing rationing, travel bagging, plasticking and cellophaning, cutting, courting, cajoling, slicing diaphanous translucent papery material. For a quick moment there you think this place could be Wal-Mars! It starts with human waste packaging of the stinking poo that saves Mark’s life notwithstanding the nose-wrenching smell, goes through vacuum packaged food, drilling off the sun blocking vehicle lid, and ends with Mark jettisoning himself into Marspace in a convertible, unflappably, all in flaps! And the redemption appears to lie in shedding the heavy metal weights that drag us down…this is the Japanese thin metal sheet cars effect that’s simply more fuel efficient, if you can only rid the environment of violent flying debris. If you can simply origami ikebana bonsai, Mars could be Earth!

This is what makes you intolerably nostalgic about Ridley Scott’s Mars… he makes it so habitable… despite its inhabitability… using something as simple as a thanksgiving staple… the life giving hot potato in a jacket… the warm glow of the sun through and at soft delicate material… the sprig, the sprout, the spud… a falling in love with earth’s foliage… possible on Earth, possibly on Mars… growing tiny and sure and supple and green between your feet… if only you care not to trample it, blight it… botany wins …farming victor… no need for verticality here… just a patched flat horizontal patch will do… Oh, to be on Mars…

Metaphors apart, in essence, Ridley Scott’s film making genius is all on the face... and in the face… and Matt Damon gives him a perfect one… even as he takes a crack at Neil Armstrong… and not necessarily at the face of the first of only twelve humans to ever set foot on the face of a celestial body outside of the face of this planet.

The poster clamor is all to bring poster boy Mark Watney home... It’s a reverse take in more than one ways on the guttural “E.T. Go Home”… and this time it isn’t in some darkly hidden forest... it’s right out there , in your face , in Times Square, no less and similarly visually choked , if not emotionally, spaces around the world.

Mars rock star: cross between John Travolta and Lawrence of Arabia
Now, Watch Matt/Mark’s face closely, look at those eyes that have seen so much more than you and I, so much beyond… look at that mouth… quiet now with deep experience… but full with desire for more… give me Mars again, it wants to say, and I will survive, in Gloria Gaynor ventriloquy!

But he is back on Earth now. Packaged as a teacher-trainer inside a class of young astronaut trainees raring to go where Matt/Mark has gone before. After his short bland introduction of his survival on Mars – because the incredible beauty he has seen and we have seen through his eyes, is impossible to describe in words – he says casually, as we all do, out of boring professorial habit, “Any questions?” and every hand goes up, but the film ends without stopping to pick up a single question. So, what could that question be, to Matt/Mark? Could it be this sotto voce: “Sir, did you really want to come back?”

*with apologies to HBR, October 2015, “How do you make Carrots kool?”; must be the desirable color of planet Mars that got me there ! 
** ibid, with further apologies to, “why we love to hate HR… and what HR can do about it”, if only it can rate experience over certificates! 

About Author - 

Nataranjan Bohidar has 40 years of teaching, training & transformational expertise. His interests are socio-cultural symbiogenesis & citizen positioning. His current initiative is to position India as a democracy within a continuum where cinema is a key subtext.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!

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  1. Your picture ๐Ÿ“ท selection & captioning approximates the sheer genius of decision making, Murtaza, the kind that all space ๐Ÿš€ men need from moment to moment! I hope readers will get the drift of what Sir Ridley Scott is trying to do...playing with our collective cine-unconscious. Digging deep into our visual memory in the popular public domain. There's Kubrick, too. Look again at the tight close up ๐Ÿ‘† of Mark Watney's huge face through his visor when he half grunts half shivers gains consciousness like a large beast abandoned on an alien reddish sun smeared ๐Ÿ‘ฝ planet and hauls his huge weight up. It could be the opening of "2001" re, no, Ridley visited ! Matt Damon's face makes all this possible, which is why the film ๐ŸŽฅ is "Matt Damon The Martian" & not Ridley Scott's ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Sir, after reading your fascinating piece I was tempted to run to the theatre for a second screening of the film, which I will do soon! :-)

      The Martian review: Ridley Scott puts the science back in sci-fi
      By Bryan Bishop on September 28, 2015 12:10 pm Email @bcbishop

  3. POTATO ๐Ÿ  JAI HO!

    Raise a toast to great skin with vodka!

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  4. b4i4get :Packaging


    We do not come naked to this Earth!

  5. b4i4get : Packaging


    We do not come naked to this Earth!
    Check out lacerations on Mark Watney's earth skin on Mars. Did Matt Damon use a body double ๐Ÿ˜‰?

  6. My dear once colleague & friend Chidu (chidanand.rajghatta) brings up a most poignant matter of cast-eism in Hollywood : "Castaside: Indian, Asian actors get sidelined..." and Ridley Scott makes a most pertinent point ๐Ÿ‘‰ that he cannot find financing for a film ๐ŸŽฅ where he has to explain that his lead actor ๐ŸŽญ is " Mohammed so-and-so from such -and-such.I'm just not going to get it financed."
    This is good reason to explore what was the role of one Aditya Sood co-producer of "The Martian" in switching the name of Venkat Hindu Kapoor to Vincent Hindu Baptist Kapoor in the film, assuming that producers have financed Ridley's MARTIAN !

  7. AN IMPORTANT LESSON WE LEARN IN "THE MARTIAN" THAT YOUR REVIEWER BARELY TOUCHES UPON only in a humorous way IS THAT WE MUST NOT JUNK OUR PAST ! Mark Watney manages to return only because the NASA space program has preserved the Jet Propulsion Lab's (JPL) enormous efforts out of Pasadena to explore Mars many years before humans/Watney even get/s there http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ and https://youtu.be/nA7ZyJqq5WI ! So, i will not spoil the film for your readers but quote to you from my copy of the MIT publication, TECHNOLOGY REVIEW of August 2009 : The ARES rockets are a crucial part of the Constellation program, NASA's plan for new manned flights to the moon and possibly to Mars and beyond.Unlike its predecessors the ARES will use separate launch vehicles to transport cargo and crew. ARES I will carry humans to space, while ARES V will transport large scale hardware such as items needed to establish a lunar base...." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD-OcW3Qhjg. " ....the first manned launch of ARES I is set for 2015" - aticle,BUILDING NASA'S FUTURE BY BRITTANY SAUSER...http://www.technologyreview.com/demos/...we do not know what happened to NASA's human colony on the moon...and first manned flight to Mars ...but we do have Ridley Scott's THE MARTIAN!

  8. well well well ...i prefer 1 over 2, but you need perhaps to read it in sequence 2 before 1 ! Enjoy ...and savor this : if the earthly Golden Globe is here...can the Outer Space Cool Astronaut Returns award (aka the OSCAR, the pics of which are awaited) be far behind? Beam it up, Ridley Scotty,and don't be riled by them who are timing you!
    1. http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/10/10732126/golden-globes-2016-best-comedy-musical-the-martian-nonsense
    2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/28/9408463/the-martian-movie-review-mars-ridley-scott-matt-damon



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