We’re Not Ugly People

Oscar Movies 2015

The Martian

A children’s movie about how great science is, The Martian has a pragmatic message for budding astronauts: you solve one problem, then another, and see if you survive. The film’s obsession with years-long plans imparts a Soviet feel to the space program depicted, but its sunny optimism keeps the movie all-American. Not once do we believe The Martian will end with a shot of Matt Damon’s skeleton half-buried in sand. Maybe the film is so bright because the days are thirty-nine minutes longer on Mars than on Earth, the same thirty-nine minutes that should have been cut from this Friday-less Robinson Crusoe. Kristen Wiig, however, is on hand to show that girls aren’t into The Lord of the Rings.

Ridley Scott’s backlot Mars offers a parable for New Yorkers considering the move to LA. Once you relocate, you’re stranded, and the chances of getting home are remote. Yes, you’ll have a vegetable garden you can sit near and watch the beautiful sunsets, but you’ll be alone, 50 million miles from your loved ones. You’ll conduct your social life via text and Skype, make trips to the desert in your electric car. You’ll continue to shave every day on the off-chance you get a meeting.

Room

The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but earthbound, and worse. If The Martian is a friendly version of dark Ridley Scott sci-fi, Room domesticates repugnant horror with spiritual uplift. Held hostage in a shed with the 5-year-old she’s had with her rapist captor, “Ma” becomes a stand-in for every young mother isolated by child care, chained by domestic servitude, and abused at night by a man who’s out all day in a world she may never see again. This dismal parody of hetero-sexual coupling reinforces the idea that it’s time to have families in some new way.

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