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The Philosophy of Stoicism in The Martian

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Being stranded alone in the middle of nowhere is a fear amongst many people. It is not uncommon for these situations to happen; however, how one acts then varies from person to person. While some people may stay calm and try to survive, others may panic and lose hope. If this situation were to happen on a different planet where one’s chance of survival is slim to none, would people still try to survive or accept that they were left for dead? In the film The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left stranded on Mars where he has limited resources to survive before NASA and his crewmates are able to aid him back to Earth. The main parts of the film have aspects that coincide with the philosophy of Stoicism. Mark, the main character of the film, exemplifies various stoic teachings through his actions.

In Epictetus’ Enchiridion, he makes a point that people should focus on things that are in their control instead of things that are not. Likewise, Mark understands that death is inevitable and that it is something he cannot control. He is aware that it is possible that he may die on Mars; however, he chooses to persevere and use the surrounding resources, something he has limited control over, in order to survive under such adverse conditions. Stoics are not afraid of adversities such as death because they have prepared themselves by coming to terms with the inevitable ahead of time. In the film, there is a scene where Mark is talking with Commander Lewis and tells her that if he does not make it, he wants her to tell his family that he loves them and that he enjoyed his time in space. Mark had accepted the fact that he may die before he makes it back to Earth long before he was able to communicate with NASA and his crewmates. The possibility of death is not strange to him and so he does not fear it, but rather embraces it.

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The idea of self-control and being rational is part of stoic teachings. Human beings, unlike animals, have the ability to use reason and logic when making decisions; therefore, individuals are free to choose how they are affected by certain events. Stoics believe that certain events are inherently not bad, but it is one’s judgment about the event that causes them to perceive it that way. Mark makes rational decisions about his food supply. He has a limited amount of food, but he discovers a way to grow potatoes using his knowledge in botany, and the resources made available to him. When the HAB explodes and Mark’s crops are gone, he chooses to control his emotions by staying calm and rationing out his food to prolong his survival instead of panicking. All Mark could do was accept what has happened and get to work to fix it.

In Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, he says that life is not short and that people are wasting their precious time doing meaningless things. In a way, this teaching about using time wisely can connect to the scene where Mark decides to use his time and take the rover to search for the Mars Pathfinder instead of sitting inside the HAB, waiting for help to come. Mark uses his time to actively search for ways to communicate with NASA, which will help him, instead of wasting his time idling. Time is something human beings take for granted and given the situation Mark is in, he does not want to waste any time before his resources start to deplete.

Ultimately, Mark exemplifies various stoic teachings about life through his actions. Stoics believe one should focus on what they can control and accept misfortunes ahead of time. Mark focuses on surviving with the resources available and comes to terms with the possibility of dying on Mars. Stoics also believe in making rational decisions and having self-control when it comes to judging an event as it may interfere with one’s tranquility. When faced with adversity, Mark stays calm and focuses on making rational decisions to prolong his survival. Time is also of the essence and stoic philosopher Seneca believes that humans should not waste their time doing meaningless things. Likewise, Mark makes use of his time to actively get help instead of sitting around waiting for help to miraculously arrive.

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