Well, inspired by The Martian and some other movies about spacefaring.
I have never been to outer space. A shocking announcement, right? The dude in his mid-20s – with the scraggly beard, with the holes in his underwear, with the borderline masochistic tendency to abuse his body like its parts can be replaced at the nearest corner store bodega – has not actually left the confines of our Mother Earth.
And that’s probably a good thing because I can’t imagine my treatment of a multi-billion dollar spacecraft would be much better than the $200 refurbished Samsung Galaxy S2 (why, yes, I did buy a refurbished version of a four-year-old phone) that I demolished through a series of spectacular high-speed cycling-texting accidents.
No, I’ve never been amongst the stars, but I don’t have any trouble placing myself within the mindset of an intrepid space adventurer. It’s not the danger I identify with, nor is it a spaceman’s technological prowess. It’s something more… unsettling than that.
Forever Into an Endless Void
Whether it is The Martian or Apollo 13 or Sunshine or Gravity or one of the hundreds of other movies within the same sci-fi family tree, a common theme among space films is hopelessness. The hopelessness that comes from finding yourself stuck in a situation from which no one can come to your rescue. There you are, trapped out in the middle of the middle of nothing. You are more alone than an insect in the Arctic. You have been swept out into the center of an eternal sea. Alone.
Now the key factor, of course, is how you react to your seemingly hopeless situation. Millions of miles from home and with no help incoming, your choices are limited to the bare minimum that surrounds you: your vessel, your mind, and your body. And who among us hasn’t gotten themselves lost and been forced to use the same tools to find their way home? (Probably not from an adjoining galaxy or planet, but you get my point.)
The Quandaries of Existence
Life. It’s a bastard of a thing, and it throws so many changes upon our shoulders it’s a wonder we all haven’t yet buckled under the strain. It’s those black days, the dreary days when Life seems to take pleasure in sucking out our every last hope, that we can finally get a measure of ourselves.
Are we the heroes of our own stories? Or are we simply disoriented sidekicks who can’t tell when we need to step off the stage? There’s something about a big, traumatic life event that is useful for figuring these things out.
In an effort to get in better touch with the hopelessly disjointed mess which is my own life, I decided to watch whichever space movie popped up first when I searched on Netflix. Appropriately, 2001: A Space Odyssey jumped out at me, but since I haven’t *cough* ever seen the entire film (I’m sorry, Stanley!) and the fact that I am also deathly afraid of watching something SERIOUS on the off chance I might actually learn something, I decided instead to enjoy Liev Schrieber’s hilariously terrible Last Days on Mars.
20 Minutes to Go
Skipping to the last 20 minutes of the movie because that’s the best way to watch a bad movie, I was able to pop into the story just as Liev Schrieber runs into a Mars dust cloud and then finds some spacedude eating another spacedude and grunting like a hippo. Apparently this is one of those space movies that also has zombies in it. Cool.
All in all, the movie did hold my attention for the entirety of the climax, and based on that alone I feel as though it should have taken in more than the absurdly low $24k it earned domestically. That’s right. A movie with Liev Schrieber, evil dust clouds, and Martian zombies would have been subsisting on food stamps had it been a person.
What Of the Martian Man?
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing The Martian, but I expect both a better movie than Last Days on Mars and the standard tug-of-war between giving up and pushing on through the hopelessness. It’s is a near-necessity in space movies, after all. One of my favorite parts about these kinds of movies is that the characters don’t actually have to even survive to “succeed.” With the odds stacked so greatly against them, sometimes the best way out is to simply come to terms with your own impending doom, crack a joke, and drive your space shuttle into the infinity like a badass.
But I don’t really want that. Put me in the box with every door locked and let me see if I can make it home. Without the challenge and without the hopelessness, we would never be able to know just what we are capable of doing. And while most of us will never find our way beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, the challenges Life throws give us our own tests of character.
Is it time to give up? Should we roll over and let whatever is coming, come?
No. F*** that. It’s more interesting to burn out in a blaze of ambition than to calmly fade away into the coldest depths of ourselves. (To paraphrase Neil Young.) If we’re going to fail, let’s at least make the attempt big and rambunctious and loud enough to make some noise in the universe. Because, at the very least, that’ll make for a more interesting movie.