I finally saw the visually stunning Gravity, a masterpiece for this child of 70s era science fiction. The effects were everything that people oohed and aahed about, and more. This, from the teenager who watched Star Wars over and over again and stood in line for hours to capture that long shot of the USS Enterprise in one of the lamest Star Trek movies ever made.
For this lover of sic-fi, space shots are eye candy. I saw it in an IMAX setting, and I’m still flinching from the debris field. So yes, this film captures what I’ve always imagined space to be. I won’t even stress over the fiction part, as I’ve heard people talk about the impossibility of the premise. Science fiction people.
But the thing that science fiction almost always gets right, no matter how cheesy the effects, is the human condition. Sci-fi as a vehicle for this analysis tends to work because it removes us, the frail, often broken and weak humans, from our comfortable surroundings and puts us in a position to face those weaknesses and dig deeper to find ourselves, who we are, who we can become.
I don’t suppose there’s anything more isolating than being alone in space. Even if you are out with a team, it’s still you against the universe, cocooned (or shipwrecked) in your own personal life-supporting suit. Gravity gives us this experience in spades — space is the perfect place for introspection. The backdrop of silence and eternity lends itself to a melancholic exploration of our mortality.
And here’s the thing, when faced with this end, do we choose hope or despair? Do we fight for the preciousness of life or do we give in to our fears and perish? Can we get past the creeping nihilism personified by Ryan, who, having experienced a deep tragedy in her life, merely “drives” on auto-pilot, with no meaning in her life? Or can we be like Matt, always looking for the prize (or vodka) at the end of the journey?
We don’t get any answers. But the questions raised are compelling enough to keep me wondering about my own journey. I’m not giving away a giant spoiler to reveal that Ryan doesn’t know how to pray, but I’ll add that not knowing how to pray is not the same thing as not believing in God. We’re hard-wired for that, even if we try to suppress it. You can’t be floating around the universe and be unaffected by the grandeur of Creation. At least I couldn’t. And it seems, neither can Ryan.
The audience sees, even if she doesn’t notice, that she’s accompanied on her journey by both a Christian icon (is that St. Christopher?) and Buddha. And, spoiler alert, the deus ex machina resolution to her plight could very well be God revealing himself to her in a manner she can understand. A bit much? Maybe. Maybe not. She does learn to pray, though, doesn’t she?
In the end, it’s the forces of gravity that bring her home. You could say that it was that moment of faith that, literally, grounds her.
The movie only hints at these spiritual themes. Perhaps it’s too generic to make a real impact. On the other hand, it can serve as a springboard for conversation. I would have enjoyed seeing it with friends who would have immediately started a discussion while the end credits were rolling. Instead you get a blog post 🙂