What "The Martian" tells us about life on Earth

Others have made the same observation, and Andy Weir has described this as part of the inspiration for his book. But why was that scene only five minutes of Apollo 13? Well, because it was a Ron Howard film, and he’s all about the touchy-feely emotional stuff. Apollo 13 was a good film, mind you, but it tips the balance of the story toward emotional “human interest” rather than rational problem-solving.

Based on his past work, The Martian‘s director, Ridley Scott, could have gone the same direction. But he tipped the balance the other way, and it’s the second speech, the one about solving problems, that makes it into the film and sums the whole thing up.

That turns out to have plenty of emotional power of its own, because Watney’s description of his struggle for survival—you solve one problem, then you solve another problem, and if you solve enough of them, you get to live—is a description of life itself. It’s a description of how we got out of the caves and learned how to make fire and plant crops and build cities and cure diseases and build steam engines and factories and learn to fly—and eventually build rockets to explore other planets. It’s a description of what every individual has to do in his own life to make his way in the world—to acquire skills, to choose a career, to set and achieve your personal goals.