wiigmartian.jpg

I saw Ridley Scott's new film The Martian last night and loved every moment of it—well, almost every moment of it. I loved every moment but one.

This probably doesn't require a spoiler alert, since it doesn't really spoil anything—it's about much less important plot point than Matt Damon eating poop potatoes on Mars, which everyone has already heard about (right?), but I'm putting it after the jump because some people are unhinged about spoilers and I don't want to spend the afternoon defending myself against charges of ruining The Martian.

There's a scene about midway through the film where one of the science guys is explaining a science thing in a conference room at NASA headquarters. There are a few other science guys in the room—including the science guy with the biggest dick (the head of NASA, as played by Jeff Daniels)—and one woman: Kristen Wiig.

Wiig plays Annie Montrose, the head of PR at NASA, and Wiig is great. She does her thing, i.e. she's a little jumpy (which makes sense, as it's her job to anticipate potential PR problems and to keep the top science guys from going rogue during press conferences) and Wiig is a naturally funny presence in the film (just as some people in real life have a naturally funny presence). Wiig is really, really good.

There are other women in the film who play captains and astronauts and science women, so Wiig's jumpy, reactive PR honcho isn't the only female character. And I think the film might have passed the Bechdel Test... but I'm not sure. There are scenes with women talking to women but since pretty much everyone in every scene is talking about Matt Damon's marooned astronaut—what's he doing up there? how can we save him? how far can he stretch his poop potatoes?—in the scenes where two women talk to each other in The Martian they're probably talking about a man. But the same could be said of all the scenes where two or more men who talk to each other. And the women who talked to each other in The Martian weren't talking about a man they were interested in romantically. Their interest in Damon was purely professional. (Mine, on the other hand, was more carnal.) So maybe The Martian passes the Bechdel Test on a technicality?

Anyway!

Back to that scene about midway through the film where one of the science guys is explaining a science thing to a small group of men and one woman in a conference room. Wiig is the only woman in the scene. The social-skill-challenged science guy rudely pulls a pen out of Jeff Daniel's pocket and uses it to demonstrate a science thing. He's tells Daniels that he's earth and Wiig that she's Mars and then he walks around the room, using the pen as a spaceship, and demonstrates how he can fly his spaceship/pen around Daniels/Earth and then over to Wiig/Mars to save Damon's life. But when this science guy gets to Wiig... he accentuates the point he's trying to make by poking her in the forehead with the pen in his hand. He pokes her hard enough to make the pen click.

It was jarring.

Wiig's character says nothing. Because apparently this is okay. Because at NASA low-level science guys can emphasize a point by poking more senior women in the organization in the forehead with pens. Yes, the science guy who pokes Wiig's character is presented as a bit of a nut—problems with boundaries, clearly socially inept, misses obvious verbal and non-verbal cues—but in his first scene we see his boss remind him that he's his boss and Daniels, the head of NASA, tosses him out of the conference room once he gets fed up.

But Wiig just takes it.

Making it a little bit worse: the moment was played for laughs and it got laughs at the screening I attended. It was a really discordant note—and a sexist one—in an otherwise pitch-perfect film. Now Ridley Scott is a genius and God rip off my fingers for presuming to tell Ridley Scott how to make a movie. But Scott could've had his cake, i.e. that moment of comic relief, and eaten it too: Wiig could've and her character probably would've snatched the pen out of the hand of socially-inept, boundary-challenged science guy after he poked her with it. She didn't need to blow up in that moment, she certainly didn't need to tear up in that moment, she just needed to stick up for herself in that moment. A little flash of annoyance in her eyes, grabbing the pen, a look that says "I didn't get where I am by letting you science twerps push me around," and the scene continues.

I can't imagine that Wiig's character rose to the position she's in by putting up with that crap like that. Or maybe Wiig's character did have to put up crap like that to get where she is—maybe all women at that level had to put up with crap like that earlier in their careers—but Wiig's character shouldn't have to put up with that crap now and most likely wouldn't.

Anyway! Small quibble! Loved the film otherwise!

Support The Stranger

UPDATE: Here's the scene—and it looks it wasn't the socially inept science guy who poked Wiig with a pen, but a guy who's more of a colleague and equal. Which still doesn't make it okay, and I still think Wiig's character should've grabbed the pen and made her displeasure clear.

My error: Yet more evidence of unreliability of eyewitness testimony or just another white asshole who can't tell black two guys apart? Discuss.