So as a screenwriter I believe every good movie can be summarized by a one sentence theme. I believe this movie’s theme can be stated as:
“The ingenuity and altruism of the human spirit can overcome any problem.”
The story revolves around a stranded astronaut played by Matt Damon named Mark Whatney. After a storm and an accident, his four crew mates on their NASA mission left him for dead and he must find a way to survive using his courage and wits. The bureaucrats, scientists, and the crew that abandoned him must find a way to overcome the odds and put aside their own fears and agendas to rally around a low probability rescue mission back to Mars to save him as he fights for his own survival.
The audience with whom we watched the spectacle unfold was completely engrossed owing to the deft writing and inspired performances of this Ridley Scott Sci-fi thriller.
When I consider the meta-significance of the movie, certain secondary themes arise:
Is the life of one man worth risking the expense and risk of additional missions and lives?
If you are going to die, is it better to give in, or to put up a fight?
The writers deftly explored these themes choosing the “high road” every time. When the NASA director and evil bureaucrat, played by Jeff Daniels, decided to withhold the knowledge of Mark’s survival from the crew until 4 months into their return journey, it was understandable. When he vetoed a plan to slingshot around the Earth and return for a rescue, it was also understandable. And when the mutinous crew decided to disobey NASA and force Earth’s hand for the chance to return to Mars, it was well-scripted.
This movie inspired thoughts of humanist scientist, Buckminster Fuller, in me.
At every stage, Mark Whatney overcomes the improbable by “sciencing the shit out of it” as he says. Mark finds a way to make water by burning hydrazing rocket fuel. He uses crew waste to fertilize and grows potatoes for his survival.
If the scientists of our real world were tasked with inventing more efficient solar energy, desalination of water, and individual, scalable personal farming techniques, there would be very little pressure upon humanity for self-sufficiency and sustainability. I think that this scientific deliverance is the real leitmotif of the TRANSHUMAN movement that I discussed with presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, in this interview.
Sadly, a world without want may not be what the people who profit from selling water, energy, and food would wish for. If people only worked a few days a week, then they would have more time to participate in politics and that would make it harder for state-sponsored harvesting of financial and human capital in the form of agribusiness, the medical-industrial complex, and the military-industrial complexes propagation of perpetual war.
If I am being totally honest, I would posit that the majority of CEO’s, politicians, and policy wonks would be diametrically opposed to the concept of increased productivity and freedom of water, electricity, food, and leisure time.
If I am being totally honest, I believe that a world with less friction, less wage slavery, and less fear of poverty, illness, and irrelevance would terrify people in power because they can only imagine a deflationary collapse of commodity prices, currency devaluation, and decreased viability of a system of credit that generates such vast wealth for so few.
Finally, if I am being totally honest, a world of telomerase activation, if it proved to qualitatively and quantitatively extend healthy lifespan, would also terrify the oligarchs because they fail to realize that childbearing would be further delayed and drive a population bust. Furthermore, tax revenues and the cash-spending footprint of those longer-living folks would be a windfall for their insurance companies, car makers, vacation sellers, and sellers of goods. It would be like harvesting evergreen pine cones rather than scything fields of wheat.
I believe the subrosa theme of The Martian is a collective ecological wake-up slap to us all. Simply put, if one man can engineer his survival on an inhospitable wasteland, why can’t we engineer our survival on our home planet of such abundance? It is a nice touch in the movie when Chinese and the American rivals banding together in the film and the entire world rallies around the survival of one man. So why is is that the world cannot rally to the notion of our group survival? Because everywhere, the people in charge would rather make, lend, tax, and hoard money then introduce a disruption to the system that would change the game from scarcity to abundance. “If I give away something that benefits everyone, how do I benefit?” is the question most people get stuck on; but in the grand scheme, how can you NOT benefit from increasing the wealth and independence of everyone?
As a parable of sorts, if you were sitting on a vast fortune and had to write a will for your children, many of you would put in clauses and age-limited trusts because you believe that wealth would lead to excess, drug abuse, laziness, and failure to compete. But what if you just gave them money to enjoy a world where increasing abundance made money a progressively less powerful tool? That is the paradigm shift we need to move towards. We need to imagine that everyone on this world deserves and will enjoy greater abundance and freedom as a result of science and altruism and that giving away the keys to self-sufficiency and wealth will not diminish our descendants at all.
Postscript: (hippie voiceover)
“Hey man, not ready to board the Peace Train to the Golden Road of Unlimited Devotion?”
Then enjoy this classic Steely Dan song that asks “I heard it was you, talking ’bout a world where all was free…it just couldn’t be…and only a fool would say that!”
And news flash: Bernie Sanders, the consummate despised New England socialist, went from 20-1 to 8-1 in Vegas for POTUS in the last month. Let’s see how he does “there on the screen, a man with a dream…”