The Martian. Ridley Scott. Good flick. Liked it. That out of the way, let’s dissect the hero’s journey of a scientist whose higher power is education, shall we?
Every good science porn is about how science is the cure-all to a world that doesn’t know fuck-all. The great Spock debate of the 1960s–Which is better for us: cold rationality or emotions?–still rages. But playtime with God is over. Sure, you still have to throw a bone to religious fundamentalists, like they do in The Martian, with scenes where the high-powered scientist characters make it clear they still leave a little light on in their hearts for The Light. But that’s to avoid picketing by fundamentalist Christian groups whose whole problem in life is not understanding fiction when they see it.
Here’s the thing, the striking thing, that struck me as I allowed myself to become emotionally invested in a movie whose outcome was obvious: timing is everything and you cannot predict it exactly. As a cure-all for a crisis situation, mathematical calculations and understanding of the mechanical universe bring you to a larger window for success. They give you greater odds of success, but it’s a probability factor nonetheless. They don’t hand you a win. They can’t, for there are always unforeseen variables, a chaos in that order.
You can plot out the time it takes to do something exactly right yet cannot plot out the timing. Why are these different things? It points to an un-mechanistic nature of the universe, which is inseparable from the mechanistic.
What is perfect timing? If you say “luck,” you’re missing the point that chance does not exist; it collapses by its everpresentness, for there is not a chance that chance can’t exist. It’s not even a paradox, it’s just an illusion. If chance is a factor in everything everywhere, then luck is destined to happen.
In no instance is anything perfectly predictable. Science itself tells us this–we live an existence of possibilities and probabilities. This is why we need emotions, because nothing is perfect, ever works perfectly, and so every now and then we have to kick a tire and yell, “Shit!” You may say that outburst is a defect, much better to remain calm as a robot in such situations, but that, too, is missing the point. The point is that “defects” are built into us because nothing in the universe can be perfect. This here reality is perfectly imperfect and so we are perfectly defective. These are expressions of the Chance Goddess permanently woven, as She is, into the Math God that tries to predict everything.
If the mechanical perfection of the mechanistic universe is an illusion because of chance and the chanciness of chance is an illusion because it is ever-present, then Hollywood sci-porn writers need not pat the religious on the head as they attempt to reeducate them. There is a reason that the hero’s journey works equally well with an atheist scientist as it does a religious seeker: because, like it or not, the forces all around us are not reducible to us. Whether you understand life through observation and repeatability or through a bible does not matter to life. God(s) can guide you or your own will and education. But in the end, at the edge of the moment where the scientist jumps from one object in space to the next to survive, he will have to abandon the knowledge that guided him there as he enters that moment. The religious hero will have to stop praying to the god(s) as he enters the moment.
The moment is silence and you must be silence to be in silence. No chattering thought or moving lips. No emotional outbursts. Time dissolves. Synchronicities unfold. You will feel more at one with everything you formerly assumed was around you but not you.
The moment. The moment is the thing, not the journey. You are the moment.
And in the moment, timing is everything.
Also, Matt Damon was really good in this.