The Martian: Important Messages in Film

What did you aspire to be when growing up and why? The power of entertainment to influence career choices is undeniable.

My favorite television show featured a doctor who always seemed the smartest person in the room because he knew why someone had died. While I wanted to keep people from dying, this show nonetheless influenced my desire to be a pathologist. Although I clearly did not become a pathologist, I still wanted to help people before the ultimate crisis.

I recently had the opportunity to see The Martian as a pre-release, and highly recommend it for students and educators. Opening in theaters October 2, this sci-fi movie directed by Ridley Scott is the best marketing piece I’ve seen to promote the study of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Playing an astronaut left behind after an expedition to Mars, Matt Damon’s character sums it up, saying, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

As a non-STEM viewer, I also gleaned a lot from the film. Here are some of the themes that resonated with me:

  • Being a leader means that you have to take responsibility for making hard decisions that have an impact on other people’s lives as well as your own;
  • Without critical thinking skills, one cannot create scenarios about the possible outcome of various courses of action or how to respond when the unexpected occurs;
  • Having confidence in the power of one’s own knowledge is the foundation needed to resolve to tackle and accomplish the seemingly impossible;
  • Keeping a sense of humor and music in our lives is the difference between desperation and hope;
  • Writing a journal is not just a record of what has happened, it is a secret companion and place for reflection;
  • Hacking can be good;
  • Never say that there is a “failure to communicate;” there is always a way;
  • What people think or public relations should never come before doing the right thing;
  • Be prepared for negative consequences sometimes when you do the right thing;
  • Math is really handy to know and could save your life;
  • Optimism and hard work are important values;
  • Millennials don’t care if you are the boss;
  • To what end are we working — purpose is key.

Movies do influence, and seeing someone in the movie with whom you can identify strengthens the connection and acceptance of the message. Women, Latinos (as), African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and being Hindu and Baptist with black skin could all see reflections of self in a good light in this film.

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