Using a mumblecore-esque comedic sensibility and simple rotoscope animation technique that recalls the aesthetics of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Mars imagines a new space race in which a European robot competes with three one-dimensional American astronauts (at lest one of whom could have been lifted straight out of an Andrew Bujalski film), who are instructed to “find” intelligent life in the red planet even if they don’t.
Featuring a cast full of indie artists (including Texas humorist-musician Kinky Feldman), deadpan dialogue that fans of The Office might find exciting, and an expendable slacker astronaut (Humpday‘s Mark Duplass) who is on the mission for manpower redundancy purposes, this rudimentary eccentricity by writer and director Geoff Marslett can be strangely endearing, but also puzzlingly zeitgeist-dissonant. Perhaps focusing on a subject matter as untimely as space exploration is in tune with the film’s peculiar humor, but the United States’s first couple being a cigar-smoking cowboy and his intellectually challenged wife is one anachronism we could all live without.
There’s something inherently riveting about watching humans survive in spatial and temporal limbos where the slightest mistake can turn new world-making fantasies and millions of dollars into specks of dust. As a cinematic setting, the spacecraft has served as stage for some excellent studies on anxiety and melancholia (from Tarkovskiy’s tour de force Solaris to the more recent Moon). Mars‘s curious usage of quintessentially American, and inconsequential, humor to give life to a site normally associated with somberness and mystery both innovates and cheapens the rocket as a figure of liminality and fascinating uncertainty.