The Value of Work and Community in The Martian

by Annalise Deal



Matt Damon’s most recent performance in The Martian is markedly different from other space exploration films, while still pretty unrealistic and dramatic, it is hilarious and surprisingly philosophical. One major reason for this, I think, is that for the most part the movie takes place on Mars, which is a desolate planet, but with a recognizably Earth-like landscape. When Mark Watney is left behind by his mission, the stage is set: a single person, alone on a new planet, left to cultivate the land in order to survive. I could not help but notice that the situation resembles a darker retelling of Genesis 2:15 “The LORD took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.”


Though Mars is certainly not Eden, the film imagines the only situation since Genesis in which a human is set entirely alone on a planet, and left to survive. Two interesting truths –which also parallel Genesis—come out of this allegory. First, work brings meaning to life. In Genesis 1 and 2, God tells man that he is to rule over the earth, to till the land and have dominion over it. He did not intend that giving man this power would be an easy task. Even in Eden, work was necessary, and gave purpose and structure to man’s life. Adam did not just sit around and enjoy the fruit; he was instructed “to till [the land] and to keep it.” The later wisdom authors of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes echo this message, continuously harping on the importance of hard work, as God’s intention for human life.


Mark Watney knows that he cannot survive without working hard. This is not only because he will run out of food, but also because without work, his solitary life on Mars would lack purpose altogether. So Watney gets to work, rebuilding his home and tilling the land. Of course, because it is Mars there is no land to till, but nonetheless he finds a way, combining his own organic matter with Martian soil. Throughout the film, his greatest successes come from his accomplishments in work. In these moments of great joy, he is not only excited that he has found a way to survive, but proud of his own ingenuity in finding a way to grow crops. Watney’s attitude toward triumph is perhaps the reason God created work in the first place. God could have just told Adam to enjoy Eden’s perfection and hang out all day, but he did not. Instead, Adam—like the fictional Mark Watney—got to enjoy the immense joy that comes from seeing one’s accomplishments in the form of growing food.


The second, and more obvious parallel, is that Mark Watney immediately recognizes that being alone on a planet really stinks. For much of the movie, he lacks any human connection whatsoever and realizes the power this loneliness will potentially have over him. He resorts to listening to 80’s music and watching Happy Days on repeat, just to combat the silence and solitude that inevitably surrounds him. Watney exhibits that on the most fundamental level, he understands that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). In the same way the plants and animals did not make suitable companions for Adam on Earth, robots and machinery are not suitable companions for Watney. Thus, his eventual triumph in regaining human connection brings Watney another huge moment of celebration and joy. Not only does he know this means he will be rescued, and survive, but he is able to laugh again, joking around with NASA workers and other astronauts via typed messages.


These important reminders of the value of work, and of human companionship make The Martian into a much deeper film than most space dramas. Watney’s character consistently points back to these truths in his moments of greatest joy and sadness, reminding us that he and Adam are not simply characters in stories, but rather an archetypes of all mankind: made to work and to be in community.


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