In the film adaptation of The Martian, science plays many roles in the returning of astronaut and botanist, Mark Watney, back to Earth from Mars. Science is what brings the Ares III team to Mars in the first place and also what enables Watney to survive on a distant planet with very limited resources. Additionally, science acts as a multi-faceted and extremely-intriguing twist on the typical “lost at sea” story. Not only does science bring Watney back to Earth, but it also draws the viewer in by utilizing a wide variety of different types of science and retells a familiar story with the implication that science can be useful for survival.
As an aside, with all the captivating media attention in the past year about sources of water on Mars, it is no wonder that the filmmakers decided to produce The Martian: people are already extremely fascinated by the scientific possibilities of exploring Mars. So, when the film begins, science has already played a huge role in actually initiating the mission to Mars seeing as the astronauts explore the surface of Mars to research possible plant life .
But more to the point, science plays a much larger role in The Martian as the savior of Mark Watney. Watney’s most pressing concern after coming to and recuperating is to make his food rations last for four years when Ares IV arrives on Mars. So, he builds a makeshift potato farm from his food supply. Using his own waste as fertilizer and separating hydrogen from rocket fuel to produce water, as well as a comedic, accidental explosion, Watney begins his survival period. So, right off the bat, this film attempts to convince the viewer that science can help you survive just like pure strength and primitive impulses do in such works as Cast Away and Lord of the Flies.
Later, Watney attempts to communicate with NASA, so he sets out to find the Pathfinder. After some tinkering, Watney sets up a circle of 16 characters, the 16 characters of the hexadecimal system, so that he can aim the Pathfinder camera at each character to speak with humans in the fundamental hexadecimal language. Since computers use hexadecimal to make sense of binary numbers, the audience knows immediately that they are witnessing an act of science.
Towards the end of the film, Watney decides to make the 90 day journey to the site of the Ares IV touchdown spot so he can be reunited with the Hermes ship, his original transportation to and from Mars. The physical journey itself represents Watney making progress and not losing hope, but what’s that? Oh right, he couldn’t have done it without science. Watney travels in his rover but must modify it to create more space for equipment and also fuel the rover with solar power. When he reaches the rendezvous point, Watney also alters the MAV to take away mass so that the trajectory devised by NASA can be executed correctly. So, essentially, science acts to push the plot forward.
Science is used left and right in The Martian to both intrigue the viewers and acts as a savior, but not in an esoteric manner seeing as this movie was intended for science fiction and pop culture fanatics. Over the course of this 2.5-hour-long movie, horticulture, biology, chemistry, computer science, the physics behind rocket propulsion, and much more are used to appeal to a wide variety of audience members. The filmmakers wanted to give viewers enticing samples of all the different kinds of science, so each particular branch of science gets a moment in the spotlight. Moreover, science is used to convey to the audience that it is an even more practical savior than we already know it to be. In contrast to similar scenarios where the main character is stuck alone on an island in the middle of the ocean and has to use his brawn and primal survival skills to survive, The Martian suggests that science can be used to reach the same results. Ultimately, science is portrayed a source of intrigue, an almighty savior, and a glue that brings multiple disciplines under the same roof (a terrific film).