Akin to Marx’s famous depiction of the castaway in Capital v. 1, which underscores the massive ‘legacy’ of British products, habits, and know-how that led to Crusoe’s so-called “self-created wealth,” Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is not exactly adrift without resources. And yet this fact—that autonomy is a result of collective training and thus depends on having the right stuff (savvy, attitude, equipment, and food)—actually seems to be the point of the film. The ideal of a lone survivor is not celebrated here so much as a sane team member who can “science the shit out of” his dire straits, one problem at a time.
I’m interested in the film’s affects of masculinity. Perhaps especially because the film foregrounds two prominent women on the ground in Houston, and two more women as an integral part of the crew that left Watney behind, I find it inordinately frustrating that these women just seem weak. Yes, apparently Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) can reprogram the entire computer structure of the shuttle to override Houston’s control of it, but this fact is kept to her verbal affirmation and given no screen time. Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) is reduced to looking wide-eyed, calling in emergency reinforcements, and pointing out Watney’s rover on the satellite image, while Annie Montrose (Kristin Wiig) lobs lawyerese into the situation every chance she gets. Even the lovely commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastaine) shows only grit and confidence, not smarts, except for the idea to use Hermes’s maneuvering thrusters to slow down and change course, and this doesn’t work. Watney still has to save himself by piercing his space suit and “flying like Iron Man.” Despite gestures to affirmative action, science, then—or scientific problem solving—is still shown to be primarily the purview of men.
Emotionally controlled men, too, let it not go unsaid.
It’s been too long since I’ve seen Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity but it’d be instructive to consider her fear and despair alongside Mark’s. Here we get no flashbacks and no words but only plenty of admirably acted emotion (Damon’s responses are really quite moving), always framed and contained by rational control. That, too, is the point of the film: one survives by swallowing fear and solving a problem…and then another problem…and then another and another and another. “If you solve enough problems, you get to come home,” Mark tells a room full of astronaut rookies at the end of the film. As if every situation can be solved. As if bad luck and insufficient time are not real concerns (not for real men?).
Final consideration of affect: The film uses Mark’s video diary and Commander Lewis’s odd predilection for disco music as pragmatic and (let’s face it) charming devices to relieve tension and chart plot progression. But they both led me to wonder how Mark would have weathered the ordeal if he had not had a semblance of human conversation through the diary (since the camera is reversed on the computer screen, so that Mark can see himself talking to himself), and the presence of human voice and culture in the disco music. It’s too bad the film did not opt to repeat Tom Cruise in Risky Business, but I suppose, again, the point of The Martian lies in Mark’s sobriety and panache. Still, is it not true on some level that he did “turn the beat around”—he listened and resisted, he engaged and remained himself…and this kept him alive?
 Marx writes that Crusoe “soon begins, like a good Englishman, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a catalogue of the various objects he possesses, of the various operations necessary for their production, and finally, of the labour-time that specific quantities of these products have on average cost him. All the relations between Robinson and these objects that form his self-created wealth are here so simple and transparent that even Mr Sedley Taylor could understand them.” Capital 1, 170.