Sunday, October 18, 2015

“Only on Mars” and the cult of science –

The film shows us that Americans do not fundamentally understand the science

Only on Mars Ridley Scott from an insoluble problem. it is 2030, and the crew of the Hermes space shuttle NASA has just abandoned Mark Watney (Matt Damon) alone on Mars. Watney’s situation is not enviable. It is completely alone, hurt by debris from the vessel, and has enough food to last 400 days. He comes to the inevitable conclusion that “I’ll have to shit, science.” [in the original version: "I'm going to to science-have the shit out of this . "]

Americans love science. A recent Pew report showed that 79% of adults think science facilitates people’s lives; 61% believe that government investments are essential for scientific progress; and a majority agree that science has had a positive effect on the quality of care services, food and the environment. Moreover, we love science: Recent statistics from the National Science Foundation have shown that Americans “make great confidence” to the scientific and medical leaders and consider them “persons dedicated working for the good of humanity. “

For Americans, scientists are a wonderful form of authority capable of applying the natural laws of the universe to meet the most critical issues of the day: where does the man? far extends the universe? is it that I take my umbrella tomorrow? But in Only on Mars , an adaptation of the novel of the same name Andy Weir, science is not just adored: she is venerated. By doing this, the film likely to transfer science to a kind of magic, and science, by extension, for wizards.

realism Efforts

Let’s start with Watney. It is neither a Navy SEAL or a large traditional hard: it’s a botanist. He uses his unusual superpower to its advantage, as when he realizes in a botanical flash of genius that he can grow his own food, using real potatoes that NASA had charged into the vessel for dinners Thanksgiving crew, even losing a bit of storage space. Later, that paragon of rationality uses his knowledge of chemistry to distill water and oxygen through hydrolysis; he finds a way to communicate with NASA on Earth; and he managed to hack a makeshift radiator for his March rover starting from a source of energy buried plutonium. Regardless of the problems that Mars requires Watney, it still manages to settle, through its ally, science.

“It is very logical, pragmatic and methodical in the way of survival , as explained by Matt Damon in an interview with Ars Technica. Basically, it says: “I need water, air and food. What it takes I do to make sure I have those three things? “ And after he relies on science to achieve it.”

No matter the problems that Mars requires Watney, it still manages to settle, through its ally, science

The film was acclaimed for the efforts he has provided in the detailed description of Martian science and space travel, whether the terminology, jargon scientific or how NASA manages the public relations blunders. Jim Green, director of Nasa planetary science, was one of the consultants of the film. He remembers the first conversation he had with Scott: “It was a conversation that lasted an hour and a half. His detailed questions were awesome. He asked me to explain the operation of ion engines, how to create artificial gravity in space, or a radioactive power system. When I understood that he wanted to paint a picture of Mars as realistic as possible, the project really attracted me. “

superhuman beings

These efforts are great and admirable. But when it comes to show how work science and scientists, the film is quite limited. In the great cinematic tradition, it reduces the scientific process in a series of “eureka” and flashes of genius. In reality, of course, science is a long and full of step process that rarely leads to simple solutions. When this is the case, they are almost always accompanied by reservations and caveats. In addition, the film has scientists as super-human beings, while the majority of scientists are actually specialized in specific areas. (Even if Green makes clear, to defend the film, the astronauts are selected for their knowledge in various fields.)

The writer Drew Goddard told Only on Mars he was a “spiritual movie” , in which religion in the spotlight is none other than science. It is not so absurd to see scientists with almost divine powers, able to solve all problems, survive, and take action: they grow plants, create codes, manufacture bombs. Take for example a key scene of the film, when a plan to rescue Watney fails. Does not matter! Rich Purnell (Donald Glover), a scruffy astrophysicist at NASA quickly finds another plan (including a slingshot maneuver and complex equations). The film does not explain how Purnell has come to this conclusion. It does not explain why others should believe. It simply empty coffee, and the solution comes in a flash of divine inspiration.

In the great film tradition, “Only on Mars “reduces the scientific process to a series of” eureka “and flashes of genius

The film is expected to accept that this plan through our faith and trust blind science (which is also where the crew of the Hermes). “I made the calculations says Purnell before an incredulous director of Nasa. What Works. “

Blind Faith

In describing science as something magical, the film misleading the viewers who end up waiting for science a lot more than they should. Worse, it encourages blind faith in science as masters of the universe. “The story actually reflects a significant problem in the interactions between the public and science nowadays says Heidi Lawrence, an assistant professor of the English department at George Mason University, who studies scientific and technological rhetoric (and did not see the movie.) It introduces an expectation that that the public will accept and will automatically accept scientific solutions to a problem because people think that scientists are heroes. The scientist finds a solution, and the protagonist agrees. This is all the power of a narrative that adopts the perspective of a scientist, someone can be persuaded to act simply on the basis of a discovery or a scientific heroic instinct “

The science fiction films do not always represent the technology and science as absolute forces of good and progress. In Alien , an android decides that Ripley has to die because it has endangered the mission was to bring an alien life form. In 2001: A Space Odyssey , the board computer HAL decides to kill all the crew of his ship to avoid conflict in its ranks. In I, Robot, robot killers turn against humanity just as men understand that they are essential to their survival. In all these films, science becomes the enemy.

Only on Mars , science is not our archenemy, but our faithful companion, our secret weapon, a force that works for the good. It’s the ax (and Only on Mars is Axe , translated into French by Crash in the forest ) of the XXI th century, a symbol of human ingenuity, progress and resourcefulness. “Here, the story involves a comforting idea, that in case of a scientific crisis will come into play and save us all, that this crisis is due to a problem such as climate change or global epidemic, or a fictional problem, such as being stuck on Mars says Lawrence. It shows how the scientific promise can be persuasive. “ Is this really the case? Maybe not. But I still prefer to believe that to be technophobic.


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