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There was once an era in which we as a collective society looked up to science, in particular the field of traveling through outer space. With technology growing by leaps and bounds, and the space race in full effect, the 50’s and 60’s were the height of the "Space Age" – where going to the Moon was the ultimate achievement. But, to paraphrase Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, we stopped looking at the stars, and suddenly space travel fell by the wayside. At least we did, until now. In an era where astrophysicists are popular again, and spacefaring is coming back to the forefront, The Martian is not only the best picture of 2015’s race, it’s also the most important.
With its' massive success, both with Andy Weir’s original novel and the Ridley Scott directed film, The Martian is a story that uses hard science fiction to tell a story of survival on a foreign planet. Matt Damon’s Mark Watney doesn’t have fancy laser guns or warp drives to go from one end of the universe to the other in a heartbeat. He and his ARES-III crewmates, led by Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis, live a life of pressure suits, carefully sealed airlocks, and carefully planned trips to and from Mars with launch windows maximized for minimal travel time. With Chastain leading the crew of the ARES-III back home, and Jeff Daniels holding things down on Earth, an expert ensemble navigates the pitfalls and disasters to get their astronaut home.
And yet, with all of that scientific knowledge on display, The Martian delivers it in such a way that you’d barely notice that this film is ultimately a science teacher’s dream come true. Mark Watney’s journey of perseverance, while laced with jokes and rants about disco, is ultimately a showcase for the scientific method. Sure, the film boasts some prime space action and excitement, with Drew Goddard’s snappy dialogue helping us identify with the characters we’re watching, but the expert film-making is the candy coating to one key factor: its characters are the some of the best role models out there.
The heroes of The Martian aren't athletes, superheroes, or bloodthirsty savages - they're geniuses with senses of humor. They analyze problems, sweat the small details that could derail everything, and ultimately save the day because they worked out every problem that came their way. But at the same time, the various professionals on display in The Martian aren’t cold, calculated figures. They’re actual people that have personalities and know that to work together, as opposed to for their own personal gain. If anything, the only adversaries they have pitted against them are time and the elements, which can both be managed through their collective brain power.
Which brings us to the largest reason why The Martian is the most important film of 2016’s best picture race: it’s bound to educate the future geniuses that are just grasping the concept of science right now. The children of today's era can look up to the characters in The Martian, and there is a diverse enough group that both boys and girls from a spectrum of ethnicities can take one character and identify with them. With Andy Weir’s book being edited into a more learning environment friendly edition that can be taught, Ridley Scott’s film will serve as a great supplement to said book. Soon, young minds will be able to learn about the ARES-III mission, how it went wrong, and the kind of logical intelligence it requires to work through such setbacks.
The Martian is a throwback to those halcyon days of the space program, where knowledge was daring and sexy as it fascinated the general public. It is the most important film of the whole best picture pack, and quite possibly all of 2015’s releases for that matter, because it brings hard science back to the forefront of popular culture, making itself an important tool in rebooting the love of science in the world. In an era teetering on the edge of a resurgence in that school of thinking, we need something to inspire today’s students to want to become tomorrow’s steely eyed missile men and women. The future is waiting, and The Martian is the ticket to get us there.