‘The Martian’ ending explained: How does Whatney survive?
(Credit: Netflix)

Film Flashback

'The Martian' ending explained: How does Whatney survive?

The Martian isn’t your typical space-age thriller. The film sits in a strange place, both in the sci-fi genre and in Ridley Scott’s canonical filmography.

It’s a disaster movie with a surprisingly light tone and moments of genuine hilarity, which led to the Golden Globes nominating it for their Best Feature Musical or Comedy award, to the bemusement of host Ricky Gervais. It depicts space missions of the near future with an extraordinarily detailed level of realism and technical expertise while having Matt Damon dancing along to Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ as his character roves the surface of Mars.

The film’s comedic moments help to humanise its main character as well as the phenomenon of space travel as a whole, which still seems alien and almost supernatural to most of us mere mortals. They apparently entertain real astronauts at the International Space Station, too.  And bring some much-needed levity to the lonely story of a man stuck on a foreign planet on which it seems there are no possible means of survival.

Damon’s character, Mark Whatney, is left stranded, presumed dead, during a spacecraft’s evacuation from Mars. He has virtually no food or water, and has years to wait before the next space mission from Earth might discover him. Things aren’t looking good.

Somehow, using botanical ingenuity, a mix of Martian soil, biowaste and water produced from fuel combustion, he begins growing potatoes in the living space he and his fellow mission crew had been sharing before their evacuation. Then he manages to find an unmanned space probe from a previous mission on Mars, which allows him to communicate with NASA back on earth.

Just as things are starting to look up, the airlock in Whatney’s living space breaks, destroying his potato supply. Meanwhile, NASA’s attempt to launch a spacecraft to deliver him extra food fails, as the craft disintegrates.

So how do they rescue him?

In a heartwarming plot twist, NASA and China’s National Space Administration agree to work together to save the stranded astronaut. A Chinese spacecraft supplies the Hermes vessel on which Whatney’s fellow crew members have been returning to earth with enough food and fuel to divert to Mars again and rescue Whatney.

As they approach, Whatney drives his Mars rover to where the vehicle which will send a future mission’s crew back up from its surface is already stationed. But after he launches the vehicle, its speed means it can’t align properly with the Hermes vessel trying to rescue him.

Realising he’s going to miss his window of opportunity for the rescue, Whatney cuts a whole in his space suit, releasing an enormous amount of air pressure that prepares him into space and towards Hermes. In a suspenseful climax to the movie, Whatney flails through open space, trying desperately to direct himself towards his mission commander using the air coming out of his suit.

He grabs her hand as he passes her, but can’t hold on, and desperately grasps at the rope she’s attached to. They swing through the vacuum together in a cosmic ballet until, in a disarming moment of comedy characteristic of the film, they bump helmets. “I got him,” the commander, played by Jessica Chastain, confirms. The whole world breathes a sigh of relief.

Not for the first time in cinema history, an entire mission has been built around rescuing Matt Damon. And not for the first time; it’s gripping, moving, and deeply humanising.