Christmas on Mars (2008)
by Corinne Rizzo
Wayne Coyne is one of those people that will strike you in one of two ways. Our first variable is the one that says “My god, what have I been doing with my life?” While the other will have you running in the opposite direction saying “Thank god I am doing something with my life!”
Does that make sense? Well, at first glance, neither will Christmas on Mars. But on second and third glance, a viewer will find themselves interpreting the film in ways a student would. In ways a culture seeking, culture loving, hunter of meaning would. This sci-fi essay in hope and perseverance lends to understanding. A viewer can’t help but find the clues and meaning left by Mr. Coyne and even has one asking, “Why haven’t I considered this idea before?”
So, for anyone who’s ever thought “I want to see a fantastical freak out film about Santa Clause and the colonization of Mars,” Christmas On Mars is the film to satiate that curiosity.
Our scene is set in the not so distant future (nowadays) with Steven Drozd (multi-instrumentalist for The Flaming Lips and Coyne’s best friend) as Major Syrtis. The major is undoubtedly the most balanced person on the Mars compound and sees the discrepancies in the colonization though doesn’t know how to interpret them. He seeks the help of his comrades to help him make sense of things, but it seems as though they are all a little panicked. Irrational even.
It is Syrtis’ first Christmas on Mars as he is the latest recruit to the compound. And no Christmas would be complete without a Santa Claus, so somewhere in the time before the film takes place, Syrtis found someone to play Santa for the Christmas celebration on Mars. Then, somewhere between choosing this Santa and about a half hour into the film, the chosen man beelines out of a main hatch and into the frozen red horizon of Mars.
In an attempt to discover why his Santa did this, Syrtis finds that his fellow crewman was suffering from the worst kind of hallucinations. Even worse, Syrtis discovers, than his own. The escape and subsequent death of his Santa was a desperate attempt to stop the hallucination.
Upon discovering the late Santa frozen still in the Martian tundra, a crewmember also meets a quiet and patient, albeit green with antennae, creature played by Wayne Coyne himself. A Martian, Coyne’s disguise is not too close to fooling anyone and after a series of investigations by the captain of the Mars colony and repetitive complaints by Syrtis that he is without a Santa, he is lumped on to Syrtis as the new Santa.
Not something he takes lightly, Syrtis tries to do the best he can to help the Martian understand the importance of Santa to people on earth.
At this point the viewer could be baffled by how Coyne sneaks the idea of the hope and generosity associated with Santa Claus and get real proud and say things like how cheesy things are becoming, but any fan of The Flaming Lips would open themselves up to that lesson. And anyone with no idea who The Flaming Lips are, will see their friends, family or whoever a little bit differently for being a fan.
The film’s Martian compound drama coincides with the birth of the first baby born on the colony since its origin. Christmas on Mars parallels the hallucinations and the desperation of these men and sets them up along the idea that there is this woman, trapped in a bubble and performing rituals and routines that seems scientific in order to ensure the successful birth of her child.
In a way it is the Martian Nativity. Joy to the red planet.
With a set made entirely out of garbage in Coyne’s backyard, the film was a seven year long labor of love for The Flaming Lips. Finally released in 2008, there was no wide release, though you could catch it in movie houses every here and there. It seemed like anyone with a copy that had the space to accommodate was interested in showing the film. Special features on the DVD will show you the lengths the band went through to complete the film and a subsequent documentary about The Flaming Lips called Fearless Freaks shows the internal struggle of individual band members (the effect of Drozd’s heroin addiction on Coyne).
The film gets really loud and really bright and really graphic, so if you have issues with anxiety or seizures, it may be best to adjust your television sets accordingly (Coyne often gives this announcement at the beginning of a show because The Flaming Lips perform in the same manner). It is boring and interesting and shocking at moments, but worth the watch for anyone who can wrap their brains around something less than conventional.
It is no Miracle on 34th Street, but that might be even more incentive to watch.
Grade: A- (Watch it more than once , though, and not in the same day.)
Top Five Reasons to See Christmas on Mars:
1) There is no Christmas music.
2) Vagina marching bands.
3) The entire set is made of junkyard crap and filmed in Coyne’s backyard in Oklahoma City.
4) It may turn you on to The Flaming Lips (which you will never regret).
5) Adam Goldberg plays a psychologist.