Thoughts on The Martian

I just saw The Martian last night. Warning this is a rant. And a long one. Because I had mixed/big feelings about it. Or, as one of my guys in SQ would say, I felt some kinda way about it. But its not just a rant about the movie, but the culture that continually produces movies like this. I actually don’t really like the word produces, I kinda like the word secretes. Like there’s actually not so much will or intention involved. Like its involuntary. Like how the mouth secretes saliva, that’s just what it does. And the brain secretes thoughts. And our culture, via Hollywood as the collective mouthpiece, secretes certain narratives and stories. Culture secretes myths. Maybe we start from there.


Ok, no doubt it was beautifully shot. No doubt the visuals were stunning. And no doubt Matt Damon killed it. I love that guy, and I laughed a lot during the film, touched and engaged by his charisma as an actor. I was pretty into it for the first half, but as it went on, something began sinking in my belly, and during the second half I began to inquire into my body, my belly, what’s going on here? What’s this sinking feeling in reaction to? And slowly some ideas began to bubble up.


First there is, of course, the glaring irony (tragedy?) of the basic premise: the world spends hundreds of millions, more likely billions, to save one man, while there are millions dying needlessly in the world from poverty, hunger, disease, racism, hatred, genocide, etc.… Sure he’s some sort of brilliant NASA scientist. But still, he’s one single, white male. And yes there was a Hispanic man on the Astronaut team, and yes some African American actors for a couple NASA key players, but the Hero that everyone is stopping their lives for on Earth is a white guy, which indicates where our culture is still in regards to race and gender. And that’s fine, I mean it makes sense, it reveals where we are at, and we are moving slowly in the right direction I believe, even if too slowly.


But beneath this layer, although connected to it, I began sensing something else that became increasingly disturbing to me. And that was, as Matt Damon was cruising in his Rover through the gorgeous landscape of Mars, the beautiful towering cliffs and mesas of red rocks that looked out over drifting, open vistas of soft red dusted valleys, something in me stirred. It reminded me of somewhere I knew… and then I realized it looked exactly like New Mexico. And Utah. The dry, old, cracked red rocks of the Southwestern desert, with beautiful mesas and mountains erupting up out of the desert floor like magnificent, ancient totems into the sky. The wide open horizons and expansive skies that thins the veil which separates us from the twinkling other-worlds of the larger cosmic order.  It is an absolutely stunning landscape.
And suddenly it felt like a recurring dream, or perhaps nightmare, being enacted over again. This felt way too familiar. I felt like Gloria Andalzúa who wrote “if I look real hard I can almost see the Spanish fathers who were called ‘the Calvary of Christ’ enter this valley riding their burros,” or in this case their rovers. The Martian landscape conjured up images of the Hopis, the Anasazi, the Pueblo peoples, and Matt Damon epitomized so perfectly the white men who rode (drove) over the delicate earth without realizing the beauty, the magnificence, the sacredness of the land – he was too busy blasting his American music and trying to escape from the alien and unforgiving conditions of the land.


When the Spanish ‘calvary of christ’ landed in what we now call Mexico, and what we now call North America, their consciousness was so radically different from the people who were living there that it is really hard (but essential) for us now to understand it. The indigenous people were living in what Rick Tarnas calls an ‘enchanted’ worldview: the trees, plants, mountains had names, histories, personalities, the animals were intelligent and considered friends or enemies, the world, the cosmos was populated with spirits, deities, and friendly or unfriendly beings which humans could communicate with via various languages – most often prayer, song, dance, offerings. They were in dialogue with the world around them. Forgive the pop culture reference but I honestly think it helps us today try to glimpse what this reality was like – in the film Avatar you can get a sense of the worldview, the reality many indigenous peoples lived in.


But the consciousness of the white settlers on the whole was one of such primitive and basic functioning that they were living in a mode of greed and consumption, driven by fear and scarcity and desperation. Of course there were good people, and many were dedicated and spiritual people exploring the boundaries of their known world. And some even reached out to the indigenous peoples with kindness and love. But for the most part, we arrived like a starving, desperate species that acted like a parasite, greedy for sustenance in a foreign land while simultaneously horrified (read threatened) by other cultures we didn’t and couldn’t understand.


So Matt Damon is a symbol. I began watching The Martian as a cultural myth, looking at the actors and the drama of the plot as a if it were a dream. Reading it as allegory and as metaphor. Damon is in many ways perpetuating and re-enacting a very old story. Humanity (read: white and male) arrives triumphantly blowing his own horn of arrogance and smugness as his own brilliance due to science (which is, in reality, one very limited form of materialistic philosophy which is in itself alright, but when used by a primitive consciousness can be used to defend a fundamentalist and arrogant (rigid) and therefore dis-enchanted worldview). Throughout the film we hear repeated like an anthem the glorious and all-important power of science – which brought us to Mars and is the only Power that can get this lost soldier back home. Damon is so in his own bubble – both literally but also metaphorically – that he can’t relate to his surroundings. For him mars is empty, dead, devoid of any ontological reality or meaning. God forbid there is any intelligent life there, but he can’t see the landscape is alive, is intelligent in its own way. That to believe intelligence and meaning and purpose and consciousness only exists within human brains is a fundamentalist presumption of a postmodern worldview. Isn’t this how the Spanish treated the New World – including the people living there? Its only now in hindsight that we are only just beginning to grasp the beautiful and powerfully integrated way many indigenous peoples lived and related to their world around them.


How many times do we have to re-enact this old myth? This primitive and brutish colonialist encounter? Aren’t we tired of it yet? Aren’t we exhausted yet of being afraid, being terrified by the ‘Other’? Whether its police shooting and killing people of color, whether its warehousing millions of people in prison, or systemically pushing down women so men aren’t threatened, or building walls to keep refugees out, or voraciously destroying our precious Earth without thought to the next generations, these are ALL symptoms of one underlying cause. A fundamental spiritual disconnection to ourselves and those around us. A disenchanted, alienated, isolated consciousness driven by greed and fear, that simply cannot grasp the timeless but simple truth that we are all connected, that there is enough to go around, that forgiveness fills the heart and kindness and love is what we are all looking for.


I look forward to movies where we arrive somewhere new, somewhere foreign and unknown, with hands outstretched, asking questions, wanting to learn from the people there, the place there, the wisdom from the land, and asking, above all else, what can we offer, what can we give?


But in order to show up like that (in a foreign land or in our own everyday lives) I imagine we must be overflowing in ourselves, in our hearts, with abundance, with connection, with safety, with joy and trust and ultimately, love.

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