In his article “How to Read a Movie,” Roger Ebert presents the idea of picking apart and analyzing a movie in the same way that we analyze books to discover subtle details within the scenes that add to the movie’s meaning as a whole or that we just find interesting. In the movie The Martian, I want to look at a few scenes that actually differs fairly drastically from the book itself, the scenes including Mark finding Pathfinder and his initial communication with NASA.
His journey to find Pathfinder in the movie begins with a stark overhead shot that makes him seem like a “pawn” in Ebert’s terminology, and the addition of him traveling through a valley sort of draws a religious parallel to Psalm 23 in the Bible that speaks of going “through the shadow of the valley of death.” The first difference between the book and the movie comes when Mark loads Pathfinder onto his rover. He is able to bring back the entirety of Pathfinder back because he has a crane on his rover. However, in the book, he is forced to leave parts of it behind. Throughout the rest of these scenes, the movie actually leaves out many of the engineering problems that Mark faces in the book. With the focus less on his engineering problems, the audience is immersed more within the journey itself and not the technical side of the story.
In addition to visual cues, the Pathfinder scenes make use of audio techniques to enhance what is basically the turning point of the movie. Mark doesn’t speak until he starts digging up Pathfinder. The silent journey augments his loneliness and gives the audience the feeling that they are traveling with him as they are allowed to focus on the visuals instead. The director also synced the Mark’s discovery of Pathfinder with the unveiling for Vincent back on Earth. The perceived simultaneous speaking of the word “Pathfinder” by both Mark and Vincent is a strong emotional appeal for the audience. Because they both found Pathfinder at the same time, they become connected verbally yet still exist on different planets. Another strong usage of audial cues is when Mark is waiting to hear a response from NASA through Pathfinder. When the camera starts moving, the music picks up pace and volume in a suspense type of way. However, when Mark screams “YES!” the music stops. I believe this has two important effects. The silence, save his voice, creates a sense of the raw emotion that Mark is feeling at that moment, yet it also a reminder of the fact that no one can actually hear him and he’s still alone.
One final note; during the communication between Mark and NASA, the movie doesn’t show the audience the delay between messages and has Mark and Vincent speak the words as they type them. This creates the effect that they are actually talking to each other and can “hear” one another, a very personal connection, as opposed to the reality that Mark is still very alone and on a silent planet.