Films provide immersive experiences to stories. The director and the actors have access to our emotions and our attention in a way that other methods of media like books or audio tapes have lapsed. By manipulating the sound, lighting of scenes, camera angles, and music, a story can be told dramatically and memorably. This is why movies leave such lasting impressions on audiences. Through expert directing, audiences can feel connected to characters as they follow them in their world. Audiences find themselves rooting for heroes to succeed and sympathizing when they fail. For these reasons, movies are works of art that can be analyzed to interpret their underlying meanings and uncover the intentions of the director.
In the movie The Martian, Ridley Scott mastered using the tools of filmmaking to turn the gripping novel by Andy Weir into a compelling story that captured the hearts and minds of millions of people who saw it. We were able to appreciate space travel and all the work that organizations like NASA and JPL lead. We were also able to witness humanity at its finest as we watched the unrelenting drive of Mark Watney as he exemplified human ingenuity. We even saw what can happen when people from different backgrounds and trainings unite for a common purpose and work together.
One of the most touching moments for me of the film was watching all of the people across the world gather in places like Beijing, London, and Times Square to watch Mark’s launch in the MAV to reach Hermes. Seeing the crowds of people hold their breath as they waited to hear the sound of Watney’s voice was very moving. It revealed how similar we really are despite our differences. I also noticed how nervous the camera made the crowd look as it focused on people with their eyes glued to the screen. The lighting in this scene was also very dark, symbolizing the uncertainty of the outcome. Most of the people were wearing large, dark coats that added to the eerie feel of the scene. The director kept the audience on edge through the use of music and manipulating the camera angles. Once Johanssen appeared on the radio, the only sound audible was her voice. The camera was zoomed into the nervous expressions of Teddy, Venkat, Annie and Mindy. Then once she announced “We got him. Watney is secured”, the camera returned to their faces that were now filled with relief and elation. The music also burst into a joyous melody that added to the celebratory feel of the shot. I also noticed that all congratulatory gestures the characters made were made toward the right. Mitch claps his hands and turns to the right. The leader at JPL pumps his fist and turns around towards the right to face everyone behind him. According to Roger Ebert, gesturing to the right indicates positivity and hope. In “How to Read a Movie”, Ebert indicates that “movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so”. Once the camera pans back to the once tense, nervous crowd, instead of seeing only a sea of dark colors, we see splashes of red, white and blue as people wave the American flag symbolizing unity. Confetti fills the air adding more color (emphasizing celebration) to the previously bleak scene. The camera is also shaking as if the cameraman is also jumping as he’s filming the crowd jumping in Times Square. This makes the viewers of the film feel as if they are there with the rest of the crowd celebrating and jumping as well.
This type of intentional gesture manipulation is present throughout the entire movie. Especially in the tense moments like during the press conference announcing Mark Watney’s death. During the press conference, the director of NASA, Teddy, was not positioned in the center of the shot. He stood to the right of the center which I found was interesting. Ebert recognizes this cinematic device in other movies and indicates that placing a character in the direct center of a shot objectifies them, just as mug shots do. He continues that placing the character a little to the right of center draws respectful attention to them and places them on the “strong axis”. This is important to note since Teddy was supposed to be depicted as the character with authority, the one who brought the news of Watney to the rest of the world. It is also important to note how during his speech, he continuously looks to the left as he shares the disheartening news. This indicates the negativity of the announcement. Directional gestures are easy to miss in movies to viewers who don’t recognize their brevity. But once the importance of these gestures are recognized, the film seems more intentional and unified.
The use of secondary orality in the film is also very interesting. It is evident throughout the movie and plays a significant role in the telling of the story. It is evident as Teddy reads speeches that he previously wrote down and also evident as Watney reads messages from NASA aloud. In a movie where communication between characters is not traditional, director Ridley Scott used secondary orality to transfer communication between the characters themselves and the audience as well.