by Catherine Feldman
“The Martian,” in theaters now, revels throughout in the abilities of the New Man: the kind of person who uses numbers and computers to manage daily tasks as well as to innovate. Almost all of the diverse roster of characters are supremely capable in this way and they are fun to watch in action. But only our hero, Mark Watney (Matt Damon,) stranded alone on Mars, has the full range of skills necessary for survival.
Like Adam, Mark is the First Man on a planet, yet he has thousands of years of human development and knowledge at his fingertips. In addition to his technological abilities, he is a botanist with the inspiration and ability to increase his food supply by growing a garden. He confidently takes the risk of planting his ration of potatoes! He knows that he needs water and fertile soil, so he uses his background in mechanics and chemistry to create a water-making machine and in ecology to inoculate the soil of Mars with bacteria from recycled human waste. He also has character traits that enable him to survive the loneliness: he is humorous, brave and persevering. Using these strengths to meet these challenges, Mark becomes the Future Man, a hero who grows a version of Eden out of next to nothing. This delights us.
Mark faces and overcomes challenges on Mars that may have some similarity to the consequences of climate change on Earth: devastating storms, barren soil, extreme temperatures, lack of water. What appear to us heroic abilities now may become the basic survival skills of the future. A big scary challenge!
Fortunately, we would not be alone. There is another component to Mark’s survival that is at the core of this movie: community and friendship. The world and his teammates come together to bring him back to Earth. Will we be able to work together with bravery, ingenuity, and skills to survive the coming changes? And even to grow a new Eden here at home?