(Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Martian)
Last year, Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner) released his movie adaption of the hit novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The story focuses on an astronaut stranded on Mars, defiant in the face of almost certain death. Given Ridley's celebrated history with explorational science fiction, his most recent journey surprised audiences by highlighting the humanity of Weir's novel.
“If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies," astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) muses at one point. "This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception."
We quickly pick up from Andy Weir's survival tale that this won't be your everyday sci-fi, nor will it be a grueling story of the lengths Watney must go through to stay alive. Instead, The Martian offers a fresh take on the subject of surviving against the odds.
Both the book and the movie work hard to show us the value of community. It reminds us we're never truly alone, illustrates how we can't survive on our own, and expresses the joy of banding together for a common goal. Here we explore these merits and how Weir was able to tell such a wholesome, humane story.
We're Never Alone: Isolation In The Martian
Yes, Mark Watney was literally the only man on Mars. While he may have been truly alone in a spatial sense, the world soon became aware that he survived the sandstorm everyone thought killed him. Instantly, he had support from Earth's people. Everyone was cheering for him to survive.
More specifically, he had the greatest minds at NASA working overtime to extend his life until the next mission could arrive to bring him home. “What must it be like?” the director of NASA ponders at one point before making contact with Watney. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” They were as concerned for their astronaut's survival as he was himself.
Finally, slightly closer to him, his crewmates (who mistakenly left him behind) risked their lives and careers to save him. Their desire to help Watney and see him home alive gave him hope in his isolation.
The fact that this is a survival tale involving community is really a unique concept. Most popular stories of similar style find a lone protagonist fighting Nature, but in The Martian, Watney has a whole planet standing with him in spirit and action.
We Can't Survive Without Community: NASA & Watney's Crewmates
The Martian proves Mark Watney was a smart man, but his ingenuity could only bring him so far. Several examples from his story prove this. First, after giving a titanic effort to grow potatoes on Mars, a breach in the HAB (habitat) destroys all his efforts. This would have been the end of Mark Watney, but the community supporting him put together a plan to save his life.
Part of this plan involved making a dangerous trek across the planet's surface to a future landing site. With plans developed by NASA engineers, Watney was able to construct a means of accomplishing the mission in spite of many dangers and set-backs. After hearing their plan, he notes the great risks behind it but admits, "I like the way 'fastest man in the history of space travel' sounds. I mean, I like it a lot...I'm not gonna tell them that." Without their plan, Watney would have been stuck on the red planet.
Finally, without the community of his fellow crewmates, Watney would have starved to death on Mars with no one to attend his funeral. They go against protocol and their orders to do what they know to be right. For all his genius and wits, Watney could only survive with a supportive community behind him.
The Chinese Space Administration & Accomplishments Of A United World
One thing The Martian does well is showing us how good it feels when we unite for a common good. We see NASA branch across departmental divides to concoct plans safe enough and effective enough to see Mark Watney return home. The Chinese Space Administration offers a secret rocket that no one would have known about at the cost of their own advancement in the space race. "If we do nothing..." the director suggests, "...the world will never know that we could have helped," his assistant finishes. They do their part and open their project to help NASA.
Most importantly, Watney's crew unanimously resolve to extend their time in space and risk everything to save their friend. To see so many people sacrificing for a common good gives the reader/watcher joy and embodies the actual feeling when a community comes together. This isn't only fictional, we can see this in real life. We can do wonders as a people when we unite for good and feel the reward.
The Martian is endearing because it is hopeful. It shows the good side of humanity. It also acts as a vivid picture of how valuable community is for human existence. None of us are lonely individuals isolated from the rest of the world. We can't survive without each other and a great happiness goes into helping our neighbor. Together, we can combat the callousness we see in the world today.
Did you like The Martian? What did you take away from it?