The Martian

The Martian

Finally, I went to see the movie.

The movie’s main theme is the survival of one human being, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), abandoned on Mars .  .

In the year 2035 the crew of the Ares III were working on the surface of Mars, when a severe dust storm forces them to abort the mission and return to their orbiting vessel. During the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney is struck by flying debris and is lost in the storm; the last telemetry from his suit indicates that it has lost pressure, with no sign of life. With their launch vehicle on the verge of tipping over in the  storm, and the remaining crew’s lives in peril, mission commander Melissa Lewis gives the order to launch without retrieving him; they subsequently leave Mars.

As the storm dissipates, Watney later awakes to the sound of the low-oxygen warning. He is injured, but makes his way to the “Hab” which serves as the crew’s living quarters and base of operations on Mars. He removes a piece of antenna which had impaled him in the belly, damaging his biomonitor. The antenna and his coagulated blood provided a temporary seal, saving his life. He quickly concludes that his only chance of rescue will be the arrival of the Ares IV crew in four years. Calculating that he has enough food to last only 300 sols (Martian solar days), he improvises a farm in the Hab using whole raw potatoes, Martian soil fertilized with  waste from his and his crewmates’ , and water produced by extracting hydrogen from leftover rocket fuel then oxidizing it  by burning.

So begins his struggle to survive and make it home. To achieve that end, both Watney and the people at NASA make various improvised attempts while the whole world is watching.

I was watching, anxiously wanting to see him survive, but I still had to ask the question that I always ask while watching a movie like this one.

“Why does his life matter so much when so many other lives perish every day?” “How about my life?”

“Does my life matter?” “What about the countless people who die every day and we  get to hear about them only as aggregate numbers?”

Mark Watney is an attractive super intelligent young white male. He’s worth saving of course.  So grumbles my cynical mind.  Even in the movie, there was a debate about whether risking 5 lives to save 1 was the right choice.   Then there is the enormous monetary cost to save him.

So I ask to myself. If Watney suffered brain damage – or otherwise was impaired irreparably – would it have been less worthwhile to save his life at all costs? Do we assess people’s worth in terms of their appearance and capability?

The sad truth is that minorities and those who are unattractive tend to die quickly in movies and only 1 or 2 beautiful main characters survive against all odds.

But I don’t want to make a quick judgment to say that this movie is biased and therefore bad. In the movie, Watney does not represent a particular group.  He represents humans.  I am Watney and I am also a fellow human being who wants him to survive and return.

Outside of the movie theater, we are surrounded by many humans every day but we do not appreciate their value. But to each of us, our own life matters – I may not be as smart and good looking as Watney but, my mind is a wonder – a complex and beautiful universe like his. It is not expendable.

In the movie, while sitting in a dark theater facing a giant screen, we are forced to be focused on a single important matter presented in sharp/ stark contrast. Black (A dark, lifeless expanse) universe vs.  White (a human being – conscious life; a universe of its own – that is a wonder) we amaze at the wonder of  the human mind at work. How he and the people at NASA separately and then together achieved the goal.

We become him and we want to survive. We feel the palpable grip of loneliness – lack of humans and long to go home and be with people.   We also become the watcher of another human being who is about to lose everything.

On the other hand, I also like the isolated/confined situation of his. Just like taking a trip with minimal items to carry around.  He finds himself in a place with finite resources and time.  I liked the scene where he counted the potatoes and marked each batch with the number of days they would last him.

He took stock of what he had and then went to work to solve problems – to extend the boundaries as much as he could to connect it with his point of survival –Ares IV’s scheduled arrival.

I think sometimes we need to deliberately create our own Mars by narrowing our options. – to fewer food choices, clothes etc. – to count the number of days we have left.  Once we take stock of what we have, then we need to work on solving problems.  We need to work out our own survival.  Are our days numbered?  At the end of our journey, will death, like a lifeless universe, swallow us up and that will be it?  Accept it and make a bucket list?  Or, will we be able to survive beyond the confine of our life span?

After figuring that out, back to earth – back to people with new appreciation for their lives and the fact that they are with us and we are not alone.


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