I find space movies very interesting. I am always fascinated by the visual effects and images that captivate the imagination and spark in me a greater sense of wonder at God’s creation. I recently watched Ridley Scott’s The Martian, and besides the beautiful, red Martian sunsets and vast deserts, I also found the plot very meaningful, especially because it contains themes applicable to our spiritual journey. (Massive spoiler alert: I will talk freely below about The Martian’s plot so as to elucidate our earthly plot.)
The movie begins with a team of astronauts conducting a mission on Mars. An unexpected storm hits the landing site, and the team is forced to abandon the mission in order to return home safely. Unfortunately, not all the team members make it back to the ship. Astronaut Mark Watney, who is played by Matt Damon, is hit with a flying object that punctures his spacesuit yet seals it simultaneously. After a brief search, his crewmembers are convinced that he is dead. They give up on the rescue effort, and they leave the Red Planet without Watney.
Needless to say, Watney survives the hit, and he sets off on a project of finding a way back home to Earth. At first, he builds a greenhouse where he grows potatoes, since his food supply is not enough to last until the arrival of Ares IV, the next mission to Mars. He then plots a course to retrieve the Pathfinder, which he uses to contact Earth. Finally, he is able to contact Earth, and the news of his survival becomes public. He becomes an instant celebrity, and people around the world follow his progress carefully. At one point, even China contributes to the effort of bringing home safely the stranded astronaut.
Two themes stand out in this film, and they are not unrelated to each other. On one hand, there is Watney’s powerful desire to fight for life, survive, and return home safely. On the other hand, the rest of mankind cheers, applauds, and helps out in the effort to bring back Watney.
The expansive and desolate Martian terrain in the background evokes a sense of terror in the audience. Watney’s surroundings, as exotic and beautiful as they may be, are treacherous; something as simple as a puncture in the suit or the helmet could potentially kill him. His death seems almost certain. If he is able to endure the perilous elements, then despair alone may be sufficient to make him capitulate and surrender to death. Amidst this desolation, however, Watney refuses to give up. Rather, he decides to tackle every challenge that presents itself in his path.
The driving force that motivates Watney and keeps him alive is his love for his homeland, where life flourishes and joys abound. For Watney, home is the fulfilment of all his desires. We too are sojourners in a land of exile, and heaven can seem to us as distant as Earth is from Mars. The challenges that we face can seem insurmountable and impossible to conquer. Yet our love for heaven, our homeland, should inspire us to muster every ounce of strength that we possess and channel it towards our daily struggles that stand in our way. Of this homeland the Psalmist says, “all my springs of joy are in you” (Ps. 87:7), and, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:6). What awaits us in heaven surpasses all our expectations; “no eye has seen” anything like it; “no ear has heard, no mind has conceived” of the joy that “God has prepared” for us (2 Cor 2:9).
As updates on Watney’s condition are being broadcast in public squares around the world, the large audiences begin cheering and applauding every time they hear from him. The audiences’ enthusiasm and cheers signify their fervent desire to bring back home safely a lost member of their community, a desire which indicates a virtuous characteristic in a society that loves its individual members and cares for their well-being. This virtue exists perfectly in the society of the saints in heaven, who pray for, encourage, and cheer for us as we journey through our land of exile, where we are seemingly stranded. While we engage in our spiritual battles and take up our daily struggles in order to live out our Christian vocation, the “spirits of just men made perfect” yearn for our perseverance and victory so that we may arrive to the “new Jerusalem,” our home, which is as pleasing as a “bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Heb 12:23, Rev 21:2). The Lord has “posted” these “spirits” as “sentinels” on the “walls” of “Jerusalem,” and they will never “remain silent.” They will “take no rest” until “Jerusalem is established” and we are brought home safely (Is 62:6,7). Their intercessory role is not only efficacious before God, but it should also encourage us to be persistent when facing our struggles.
In the end, Watney makes it home safely and takes up a teaching post at MIT. He is a source of inspiration to all his students, who listen to him attentively as he recounts his story. May we too arrive home safely one day, and may our stories be written to inspire others to follow in our tracks.
Image: From the film The Martian