Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Martian Unjustly Triumphs Over Gravity

Author's Note: To clarify, this essay was written and posted Wednesday, September 9, 2015, before The Martian reached theatres, and certainly before I ever saw it. I hear it's due out October 2. I hope and expect it will be excellent, and yet...

I know it's a little early in the game, but I want to be the first to complain that Matt Damon won is going to win the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Mark Watney in The Martian when Sandra Bullock didn't win for her portrayal of Ryan Stone in Gravity.

Oh, it isn't that I didn't won't enjoy his performance. He's a great actor. But The Martian is such a brilliant movie with such a strong story line, that I'm pretty sure I could have won the Academy Award myself had I been cast in the role.

In fact, I came away from reading The Martian with the distinct impression that while, yes, this character is pretty amazing with his ability to come up with good ideas and do back-of-the-envelope calculations, what really gets him through the ordeal is his sense of humor. His teammates who left him behind seem like smart folks, but I bet they would not have survived a similar ordeal because they seem to lack this critical attribute. And this core survival skill, humor, is carried in the character's language, in the words the Mark Watney character would say, no matter who played the part.

I'm not saying Damon is bad at delivering lines. He's great at that, in fact. It's just that to play the character of Mark Watney well, it just isn't necessary to be all that great. The lines themselves exude greatness and the Oscar for best screenplay rightly acknowledges that. But Damon's chief contribution to this movie isn't his performance but his box office appeal.

By contrast, Bullock really took Gravity from a few bleak lines and some clever special effects and turned it into a personal human drama through the sheer force of her performance. Hers was an Oscar well-earned, yet never realized.

Given time, others will surely join me in acknowledging this grave injustice. And the Academy is increasingly well-known for its biases and blunders, I suppose, so maybe this isn't that much of a surprise. But I just wanted to be first to defend what's still a really fine performance by Bullock, and to say that Damon would have done do well to graciously correct the injustice by sharing his award with her in his acceptance speech.

As I said, it's still early in the game. The coming future seems all too obvious, and yet it's not yet written, so there's still time to break the cycle. Perhaps this time it will be different.

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