[2015] The Martian

October_2_24_92_99_18.epsThere is a long history of awards’ ceremonies ignoring science fiction as fun but not worthy of enshrinement. Almost, if not all, of the films recorded as Best Picture have been dramas or musicals. The voters, mysterious creatures, but all too predictable, seek to reinforce the gravitas of the human condition, or the light-heartedness of the times between the terrible. Heavy be the high watermark that keeps film from being fun; Drama is Art, but not Fun, because verboten be that particular Venn diagram.

If comedy is the populist mandate for the film industry – and it is – then science fiction is the socialist third-rail. Audiences who scoff at a serious science fiction work – book or movie – often cannot decide whether they enjoy the science or fiction part less. The concepts are too high-minded and far-flung, and the situations just not humanistic. We have not yet been to Mars in any capacity, so instead of letting computer aided graphics show us a branch of the possible, the Academy scoffs. Millions of people saw The Martian and presumably enjoyed it because while the human condition needs history to preserve for future generations, the human condition is not simply a puzzle of the past, it is also very much the struggle for the uncertainty of the future.

Science fiction offers an escape to its readers. The scariest science fiction toes the line between the possible, the macabre, and the near future. The world is broken and we need technology to save it. Eventually, we find out that what we thought we knew was completely wrong, and we unite to crush the dystopia to bring order. The tamest sorts the world out; we are a fixed species in the future and our problems are common and external. We are running out of room and resources for humans, say, so it is time to start exploring our Solar System. Here, science fiction branches off again. There is the fear of being alone in our Universe – and then not – and our neighbors are not benevolent. Then we fight for survival, and we win, because to watch a film about the actual end of the world shows a bleakness reserved for the innermost depths of our minds. There is also the joy of rooting for a singular human who faces dire consequences and must channel the best of us. This character is heroic and faces internal conflict as a matter of narrative. But this human is relatable because his situation is unbelievable, but he is a projection of what we would like ourselves to be.

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[2015] Spotlight

Against some odds, Spotlight took home Best Picture honors at the 88th Awards ceremony. Among the eight films nominated, Spotlight blended into the fold perhaps a little too cleanly and emerged victorious as, a manner of speaking, default. In a series of films marked by quasi-historical narrative (well, not Mad Max: Fury Road or The Martian), Spotlight dug its roots into what makes us feel uncomfortable the most and asked the audience to respond in kind most visceral. So: perhaps different from past winners, which all follow this idea of narrative gestalt to one of emotional response because Spotlight did not respond to anything in particular from the year; it did not wrap its gravitas around a suite of ideas that moved the nation. It worked, though, as a powerful inductive technique to bring a narrative into the public, well, spotlight, that had been simmering for many years. Does this abrupt shift signify a trend for the future?

The future should be somewhat obvious (and surely looking back will prove this sentence one hundred per cent incorrect) to those with a finger on the pulse of an increasingly globalized political miasma. And yet, with all the uncertainty encircling coming national and international events, 2016’s winner this year will not feel like a coup of sorts. As of yet, though, the uncertainty of what awaits is pervasive and head-scratching. Navigating the movies slated for a 2016 release (in mid-May), nothing quite stands out as reflective of insurgence, political defiance, or identity politics. Nothing seems to spin off-center or unsafe. We must be cautiously frivolous, then, when guessing aberration or trend for Spotlight. Either way, this conversation has shifted for the better and its win brings a fresh sense of thematic ignorance (bliss) and polishes the jade so deeply ingrained. Continue reading “[2015] Spotlight”