Bioethics Blogs

A Bioethicist on Mars

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

The film, The Martian, is an exciting Robinson Crusoe space adventure. Based on the book of the same name by Andrew Weir, the film stays fairly close to the original source. Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when he is impaled by a metal rod in the middle of a sudden and violent storm. Thought dead due to a malfunction of his suit, his fellow astronauts leave him and make an emergency evacuation to return to Earth.

Once regaining consciousness, Watney has to find oxygen and repair his injury. He manages to crawl to the ground habitat and realizing he has been abandoned, he sets to fix himself. Watney needs to remove the metal rod, stop the bleeding, suture his abdomen, and bandage himself. In one grueling scene, Watney uses a mirror to be able to see his stitchwork while he sews himself back together.

This is the inverse of the hero epic—instead of crossing into another realm, he’s been abandoned in one and needs to find his way home against impossible odds. The boon is not knowledge of himself nor an amulet but rather that he simply arrives home at all.

The rest of the movie follows a familiar pattern: Watney encounters an obstacle or setback, he finds a way to overcome it, and moves to the next challenge. He figures out he doesn’t have enough food so he brings in Martian soil to the habitat and mixes it with the accumulated freeze-dried waste of the astronauts. Then he finds preserved potatoes that he can use to seed the new ground and grow a crop.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.