Sunday my family went to see the Martian. We all enjoyed the movie and I recommend it. Since I study communication, I couldn't help but do an ad hoc film criticism. Here are the elements I found most interesting about the film.
1. NASA's starring role
2. Representations of media relations between government agencies and public in the film
3. Representations of public culture in the film
4. Representations of international relations
5. Representational biopolitics
Let us start with NASA's staring role. My family thinks that NASA's overall representation is mildly negative (I won't ruin the film by telling you why), but I disagree with their evaluation because in the end I think NASA is represented as capable of delivering the techno-fantasy of space colonization.
Remember Matt Damon tells the viewers that the University of Chicago says that he officially colonized Mars.
So, I think the film reaffirms the entire technological Manifest Destiny fantasy, sort of. But I need to address the other points before unpacking this discussion further
REPRESENTATIONS OF MEDIA RELATIONS
I found this element to be the most intriguing aspect of the film because it represents a world wherein NASA tells the press everything within 24 hours. The film represents NASA as utterly TRANSPARENT, with one notable exception and the exception is ostensibly driven by misplaced concern, rather than being driven by malfeasance.
The film's world is governed by transparency and also by public relations, with no fundamental contradictions between truth and image left unresolved at the film's close.
NASA's chief is constantly escorted by the agency's media relations officer, cast as dutifully honest, although simultaneously sensitive to public opinion. NASA's media relations officer shows up in quite a few scenes. She has replaced the corporate attorney as adviser on governmental conduct, but she is mostly trutworthy.
REPRESENTATIONS OF PUBLIC CULTURE
The film's world is full of people who are mesmerized by the plight of one man on mars. The film's world population is fundamentally united by their concern for this man's well being because he is on a hostile planet other than Earth.
REPRESENTATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
That common bond is so strong that China comes clean on rocket technology capabilities and international relations warm up a bit, although there is a definite dig against China's level of technological development in comparison to NASA's.
Film reviews have already mentioned that the film makes life on Mars look a lot easier than it actually is and Mars doesn't have storms as represented. What it does have is less atmospheric protection than Earth so radiation levels are very high. Matt would have been fried. in particular, it appears that space radiation destroys neurons so capacity for Matt's amazing mental gymnastics would have evaporated.
Even given this distortion, the film offers a very harsh assessment of life conditions on Mars. Additionally, the film reaffirm in many ways the fecundity of Earth.
So, why do we want to go to Mars?
Why do we contaminated the place we are with toxic waste from uranium supply chains in order to fuel technology to take us to hostile planets as colonizers?
I really believe Helen Caldicott is correct in her assessment of what drives nuclear.
We are truly insane beings.
Proof of that insanity is the denial evident in the Martian's representation of NASA.
It is true that public affairs/relations shapes public understanding, but public affairs/relations people are story tellers for corporations/governments/ngos and the narratives prized most are those that sell the story that decision-makers want told, whether true or not.
Public Relations tells the public story but the public story is not the only narrative. And some stories just line up better than others within the broader field of stories and perceived realities.
The Martian's world of full transparency has no resonance with the narratives about governmental operations that I read in the press, which are characterized by themes such as regulatory capture, secretive operations, and deleted emails, among other vices.
The Martian narrative is compelling, but ultimately foreign, from the narratives found in our news media.