3 Stars – Challenging
If you are comfortable taking risks in your life, then this story of travelling to Mars will intrigue you. If risks make you uncomfortable, then this movie will put a chill into your night’s sleep.
Although this story is a fictional look at future space travel to Mars, imagine what would have happened back in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon for the first time, and then an accident occurred and Armstrong thought Aldrin was dead, but as he returned to earth he found out that Aldrin was indeed alive and he had left him behind to die! One thing that elevated these original astronauts into the ranks of heroes was the fact that they faced the risk of death every time they entered a space capsule.
In this remarkably well-filmed story, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm hits the American space exploration center on Mars and he is left behind by his crew as they head home on a four-month journey. When he regains consciousness, he is not only faced with the probable certainty of death due to his lack of food and water, but he knows that the soonest anyone could return for him would be four years. To make matters worse, he has no way to communicate that he is still alive.
Without giving away the intrigue of the story, Watney, who is a botanist by training, has to figure out how to grow food in a completely hostile environment. He has to develop a method of communication and he has to keep himself sane in the midst of overwhelming odds. We know from the promos for this movie that those on earth do find out that he survived, but no one knows what to do about it. Much of what happens next will keep you on the edge of your seat.
If there is one thing that has changed in our culture in the last 50 years, it is our lack of tolerance for risk. Today, if anything in the space program goes wrong, the whole project is shut down while we figure out how to make it safe and risk-free. In the 1960’s, death was just a part of the experiment of space exploration. There would be a few weeks of mourning and then the next group of astronauts would be sent into space.
Today we may live in a transparent culture where we can see every risk around us, yet we have simultaneously built up an emotional expectation that we will live long and prosper without any risks. If something does go wrong, or we get sick, it must be because someone else failed us – our doctor, our health system, our schools, or our politicians. It can’t be “normal” that people die.
Since September 11, 2001, those who have died in battle during these 15 years of war is less than a third of those who died in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Only 200 years ago, or roughly 5 or 6 generations, it was a common expectation that the mortality rate among children was 50%. There must have been a numbness that set in to be able to function when you know that half your family will likely die before they reach adulthood.
Whatever the next phase of exploration is in space, it may require our facing our fears of death and resetting our expectations of risk. It certainly will require facing the question of whether or not we believe in, or trust in, something greater than ourselves.
1. Similar to Cast Away, the isolation of Watney on the planet of Mars reveals the ingenuity and fragility of human beings. How do you think you would respond if you were in his place?
2. If you knew you were responsible for abandoning a fellow astronaut on Mars what would you feel and do?
3. Do you take risks with your life? Which ones are they and why do you or do you not take a risk on it?