The term “deus ex machina” was used during the days of ancient Greek tragedies for when actors playing gods were brought to the stage on devices, like cranes, to save all of the characters and assure a happy ending.
The term translates into English as “god from the machine.”
These days, it is used as more of an insult to the endings of movies featuring random chance to deliver unearned rescue to the main characters. This happens more often than many realize in modern cinema, but “The Martian” offers blatant defiance to this trope. This is a story where god does not come from the machine, but instead the machine comes from the human.
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut mistakenly left for dead on Mars. There is no divine intervention coming his way. Everything is earned with the intelligence and determination of the humans on screen. They believe in themselves, they believe in their science, and they believe in each other. That is their religion.
This interpretation is a fair one since Watney’s first life-saving invention involves him apologetically destroying a crucifix in order to use the wood-shavings for fire. The story does not play like an insult to religion though, but more so a compliment to humanity, a love letter to what we can achieve as a species when our heads and our hearts are in the right place. For all of the amazing special effects and mind-bending science, it is the people who shine the brightest.
“The Martian” is exciting, and the inspiring entertainment will satisfy all but the most cynical among us. Damon carries the weight of two worlds on his shoulders and gives a performance that would put Atlas to shame. His humor and tenderness make it easy to understand why so many would be willing to give so much for the sake of a single person. It is his humanity that speaks to our humanity.
“The Martian” soars to 9 “jealous Ben Afflecks” out of 10.