It is so refreshing to see a film these days which actually has a meaningful message and conveys that message through cinematography and metaphors. Such a film is the Sandra Bullock, George Clooney survival flick which came out this weekend called Gravity.
This film just works on many levels. It is a nail-biting suspense tale of survival. It is also a huge technical marvel. So much so that I kept wondering how they filmed it, even knowing the level of CGI we are immersed in these days. It is full of beautiful imagery. And last but not least it is a spiritual journey of being reborn and finding a new reason to live.
First the plot which is very simple. Two space shuttle astronauts are stranded in the blackness of space when satellite debris collides with their shuttle. Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), and the mentoring veteran, Matt Kowalski (Clooney) have to find a way to survive “off structure” because they were space walking (E.V.A.) when disaster struck. Luckily Matt’s operating a new EVA jetpack which can maneuver in space. This leads them on a field trip in orbit to the ISS and more. Every turn reveals a new peril which may sound tiresome, but director Alfonso Cuaron pulls it off beautifully and even makes some very hard to believe situations believable. Very rarely can a film contain non-stop action and still deliver a powerful message, but Gravity manages to do so.
This is where the fun began for me. The message. Once we start learning Ryan’s back story the film starts a journey into survival on another level. We find out that she lost a child awhile back and has basically stopped living life. She works to fill the void and then aimlessly drives in her car each night until bed. She has no one to mourn her loss if she were to die and she seems to be accepting of it. Matt on the other hand is about to retire but is still full of life and his will to live is enough to power them both. Then the symbolism starts.
Here’s where I have to say: SPOILER ALERT!! Stop reading now if you don’t want to ruin some of the major plot points. All I will say before you go is: notice what Ryan does as soon as she takes off her suit the first time. This sets the tone for a whole slew of metaphors.Now for those who don’t mind the spoilers I will present my analysis of the film.
The film is really about faith and rebirth. Cuaron takes a little bit of an Eastern religious spin on it, but I found a lot of Christianity in it as well. Ryan is dead inside when the film begins and as they start their struggle to survive, Matt does incredible things for her. Somethings that don’t make sense to her. First, he encourages her when she doubts. He comes to rescue her when she is adrift, spinning out of control, and without hope. By this, He saves her. He gives her a sort of faith. Something to believe in… hope.
Once they reach the ISS, they have problems getting onto it. This results in Matt doing another unthinkable thing for her… He sacrifices himself for her. He does so lovingly and encouragingly. He even gives her instructions for survival as he floats away. This made me think about how Jesus died for us. He did so lovingly while encouraging the disciples. In John 13-17, Jesus spends a lot of time telling them how to carry on without him.Following Matt’s instructions, she crawls into the ISS and is able to finally take off the suit. Filled with a mix of relief, sorrow, and fear she curls into a fetal position with the suit’s umbilical cord strategically placed in the shot so that she appears to be in a womb. This shot ends with her propelling herself through the tubular halls of the ISS which is a metaphoric birth canal of sorts. The rest of the film is one long, difficult and labored birth.
At one point of this process she finds herself in another seemingly hopeless situation and she gives up. She cries and declares her lack of faith (in God) and lack of friends or family to mourn her. This is a powerful scene of the film accentuated by Ryan’s tears floating toward the camera in zero gravity. Then a vision of Matt appears to light her path and guide her. She then finds that hope again and resolves to fight. This is also driven home with another heartfelt moment where she “prays” to Matt and asks him to tell her daughter she won’t give up. Many times our spiritual rebirth is fraught with struggles and feelings of hopelessness like we can’t go on. It is then when Jesus will hold us, encourage us, and show us the way.
When it finally seems Ryan is going to make it back to Earth her capsule crashes into a lake and begins to sink. With difficulty she fights through the water to reach the surface. This becomes another symbol as she struggles out of the amniotic fluid to break the surface with a gasp of Earth’s air. The first she’s had since this journey began.Like a child she claws her way to the muddy shore crying. And finally she stands up triumphantly covered in mud. Born again to a new life. She looks up cheerfully into the sky. Then she takes her first steps which, because of the gravity she’s been missing for so long, are staggering and labored… like a child learning to walk.
I loved this film. It just succeeds on so many levels and it is good to see film-makers use cinematography and symbolism to speak about the human spirit. The profanity was a little higher than I prefer in a film, but aside from that, Gravity is a moving and exciting film which touches on the growth and survival of the spirit.