On Sept. 28, NASA made a big announcement that NASA researchers detected the strongest evidence that “liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars” by using an imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). According to Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, “It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet. It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.” Does this finding suggest that humans may be able to colonize Mars in the near future? Probably.
Then, it’s not surprising that the prolific film-maker Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi film, The Martian, has been the most popular box-office hit over last 2 weeks. Interested people, old and young, flocked to the nearest movie multiplex to see the film. My husband and I were two of those people, though by the time we made to a nearby multiplex the audience flow was no longer as large.
The film based on a novel by Andy Weir starts with a scene in which the crew of manned mission to Mars is forced to leave the planet due to a sudden and severe sandstorm that killed one of the crew, Mark Watney. Unable to find the body of Mark, the captain makes a fateful decision to fly away to save the lives of other crew members. Later, Mark is seen alive, crawling out of the sand debris. He is stranded on the Mars, alone and injured. But, he is determined to go back to the earth by all means possible. So the film is a story of a castaway who manages to come back to his community after overcoming a myriad of hardships; this is a continuation of the archetypal story that has been told many times from Homer’s Odyssey to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is also a story of human ingenuity and resilience.
Immediately after Mark finds himself alive but injured, Mark’s characterization begins: he treats his injury. He surgically removes a bit of an antenna from his abdomen. Then, he counts the inventory of food stock. After all, a sound body should be his or anybody’s priority in such a situation. Finding that he may not have enough food to survive until his colleagues are able to rescue him, Mark decides to grow potatoes. He also devises a method to create water (the film crew did not know that the Mars has its own water source). He is not a person plagued by an existential angst even if his situation suggests existential crisis. Rather, he is a practical and optimistic person who believes that he can survive his devastating situation. He also believes his colleagues will come to rescue him. He methodically solves varied problems as they come his way. And the relentlessly upbeat dance BGM filled with 70s disco music keep the film upbeat and shallow throughout the film despite its desperate premise and healthy dose of thrills and suspense. It is a kind of film that can be enjoyed by fairly young people, such as grade school kids.
The film is great at teaching school kids how important basic science and math can be in some life-threatening situations. It seems to say, “Study science and math, and stay optimistic. Then you may be able to survive even when you get stranded in no man’s island.”