Great Recovery Movie: The Martian

I’m currently re-watching The Martian for what must be the 20th time this year. It has become my go to movie when I am in too much pain to focus. Often I don’t even want to watch anything new. So many things feel so unpredictable and take so much thought that I would rather rewatch or reread something rather than try and parse something new or add in the risk that I may really not like it.

One of the top Amazon reviews for The Martian is exclaiming how great a movie it is for watching and re-watching during cancer treatment. I find the same thing for surgery recovery and spinal cord rehab. Beyond it being a well done movie and story, I think there are a number of things that make it great for rehab:

  • First of all, the movie does a great job of conveying the stress and difficulty of slowly dealing with a problem. It takes place over the course of years with moments of excitement mixed in. I’m approaching the end of the second year where I knew something was wrong with my nervous system, and I’m expecting to be working on rehab for another year or two. Every day requires making lots of small steps in the right direction, but there is also a lot of waiting around (in pain) after taking my daily steps. Waiting for the next day to take one more step and trying to not go too fast and slide backwards. Trying to stay on task, but then also needing to re-evaluate and adjust my plan.
  • There are a few points in the movie where the main character has a major setback and kinda gives in to depression and being a wreck for a bit of time. It normalizes that sometimes the right decision is to sit on the couch and give in to doing nothing. Wait for the pain to dissipate. Wait for a point where you can logically process and figure out the next step. Wait another week to gather more data and not immediately second guess everything.
  • Then you get back up again. Start over again. Analyze what went wrong. Look at the data you have about yourself and your situation, and try the next thing. Iterate.
  • Lastly the movie does a great job of portraying loneliness. Even when lots of people are helping you and lots of people care, you are still really alone. In the end it is always your life, and you are always alone with it. You are still needing to figure out the details and second guess your choices. You make the final decisions and live with the consequences.

The movie ends optimistically with a pretty good summary of the above:

When I was stranded up there, by myself, did I think I was going to
die? Yes, absolutely. And it is going to happen to you. This is space [life]
it does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on
you, and you’re going to say this is it, this is how I end.


Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it
is, you just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem, then you
solve the next one. And then the next.

And if you solve enough problems you get to come home.

I have a list of ten problems that are currently getting in the way of rehabbing my body. Solving things is slow…