Ever since we watched “The Martian,” something’s been bugging me. Not Matt Damon’s performance, which was authentic and brilliant, or the special effects, which we loved, but rather the mindset the writers gave to his character.
I’ve been an avid SF reader since second grade. Stories about space fascinated me, so while the other kids painstakingly sounded out the adventures of Dick and Jane, I sneaked a peek at my teacher’s copy of The Martian Chronicles. Mrs. Yardey was a good sport, and pretended she didn’t see me hunched down in my seat, holding my desk open a few inches and turning pages with my pencil eraser.
I devoured every word.
When I reluctantly returned the book to Mrs. Yardey’s desk the next day, expecting a scolding, she suggested I check out the bookshelf in the back of the classroom. And lo and behold, nestled alongside the insipid tales of Dan and Nan and Spot and Puff stood volumes with exciting titles like “R is for Rocket,” “Pebble in the Sky” and “The Gods Themselves.”
Teachers can be awesome like that.
Those fictional astronauts became my heroes. What courage they had! Only a fearless adventurer would dare strap herself into a flimsy little capsule that was blasted into space by controlled explosions and flung toward mysterious destinations like Titan or the Red Planet. How I wanted to tag along!
So when the writers of “The Martian” focused on how tough it was to survive on Mars, the story didn’t ring true to me. Where was the excitement? Where was the passion? Yes, he’s in mortal danger, but HE’S ON MARS!!!
If I were stranded on Mars, my reactions would be different. “Yes, I could die out here but….I’M ON MARS! I’ll be the first person ever to die on Mars!” “Yep, I’m farmin’ with my own waste but…I’M THE FIRST FARMER ON MARS!” “Oooo, another beautiful sunset–and I’m the only person who gets to see it because I’M ON MARS!” I’d never stop geeking out about it.
When Damon’s character realizes that he’s the first colonist on Mars, he doesn’t do a happy dance or even jump up and down a little. I know I would. “Mars Colony! Population of…ONE! And it’s ME!”
You can’t tell me that the people chosen for the Mars mission wouldn’t be grinning all over their faces, stranded or not. We’re talking about people who’ve spent their lives in brutal competition to get to this point, struggling for the highest grades, pushing their bodies to the limit to develop almost super-human strength and endurance, spending hours in the centrifuge fighting the urge to vomit–all to impress NASA and earn a coveted seat on the Mars Mission.
Yeah, I know what a real-life astronaut stranded on Mars would be thinking.
“WHOOO-HOOO! LOOKIT ME! I’M ON MARS!”