Brussels – March 22nd 2016

Having lived in Brussels for ten years and flown in and out of Zaventem airport on average twice a month during that time, I cannot let today go by without posting about the deadly bombings inflicted this morning in places that are still very familiar to me.

I had been intending this coming Easter holiday weekend to share my thoughts on a movie I have recently watched, the popular Bollywood comedy ‘PK’, which lightheartedly (for the most part) examines and questions various world religions, among them Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. But I feel no longer able to do that. There is nothing lighthearted to be said about religion.

Is there snow on Mars?

Good morning. As it’s snowing hard at 600 metres (2000 feet) here in Switzerland and I can’t even see Lake Geneva from the window anymore, I’ve decided to stay home by a nice warm log fire and write. I’d been planning to ski this weekend but the weather forecast is pretty bad and a quick check of the resort webcams has shown me what I feared; visibility is poor, almost a whiteout, and venturing onto the slopes will be hazardous.

So I’ll stay home instead and write a review I’ve been meaning to do for some time, a review of a movie I saw recently, ‘The Martian’, by one of my favorite directors, Sir Ridley Scott, based on the best-selling book by Andy Weir.

And what a refreshing experience it was to watch this movie. Why refreshing? For several reasons.

First off, ‘The Martian’ is one of the rare movies I’ve watched/studied recently that has no villain. At least no human villain. Nor an alien villain. If there’s a villain at all, it’s Nature, the human-hostile environment of the dusty wastes of Mars, the vastness of the solar system and the universe outside it, the emptiness. In stranded astronaut Mark Watney’s unenviable situation, Time itself has become a villain. We watch it flow inexorably past, every day (or Sol as they call it in the movie) Watney counts off a reminder of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous ticking bomb. Will Mark run out of the potatoes that are his only remaining food supply before NASA’s desperate rescue attempt reaches him? Will he succumb to radiation sickness? Will his water-making experiments with explosive hydrogen envelope him in a ball of fire? Will he lose concentration and forget one time to put on his helmet before he enters the airlock? Author Andy Weir has shown us it’s possible to create a story without human villains. There’s no Dick Dastardly attempting to sabotage the rescue, no wicked Queen out for revenge because Matt Damon is better looking than her. Features that most movies (and stories) in the 21st century appear to need. A story that’s successful without bringing human conflict into the mix is a precious gem indeed.

Secondly, one of the main themes of ‘The Martian’ is hope. Nobody gives up. Nobody. Not Mark, not the people who left him behind, not the NASA scientists and leadership, not the potatoes (who have a tough time growing in Martian soil, I can assure you).

Thirdly, it’s clearly demonstrated in Andy Weir’s masterpiece that cooperation between people on our little planet Earth works. The spaceship crew is multinational, the community of scientists racing to find a solution is multinational (check out the character names: Vincent Kapoor, Mindy Park, Guo Ming (Ming the Merciless, anyone? Uh-uh), Sean Bean etc etc). Everyone works together and the result is a resounding triumph. Hey world, could we try that ourselves please? Soon?

And fourthly, ‘The Martian’ is funny. Mark Watney keeps his sense of humor all the way through, even on the numerous occasions when he’s staring Death in the face.

So there you have them, four excellent reasons why we (and our children) should watch ‘The Martian’ right now. In fact, I think I will.

ps This is in fact one of the few movies/tv shows starring Sean Bean in which he doesn’t die.