Castaway in space. That’s how my review was shaping up as I sat through the first two-thirds of the Oscar-nominated Gravity. Sure, Sandra Bullock was pulling off her typical ‘wow’ performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, first-time astronaut and survivor of a catastrophic space event that severed her connection with Earth and sent her reeling, untethered, into space. And there was George Clooney as veteran astronaut and team commander Lieutenant Matt Kowalski, soothing Stone as she tried to get back into a ’safe’ position back at the space shuttle. All of this was playing out about how I expected it to, and while, yes, it looked good, it wasn’t moving me.
And then the final third happened, and Alfonso Cuaron’s story, directed and moved about just as he wanted, hooked me. It’s fair to say that when you work your way through the close-to-three hours of special features, that no matter what your level of love for the movie is, that it will grow. How’d they make “Zero G”? What’s what the lights and the shadows? Was it hard playing Ryan? What gave Cuaron and his son Jonas the idea for this terrifically moving story?
For me, it’s always about the story. Sure, I wasn’t blown away by it (except visually, because, face it, even a blind person could “see” the way that the collisions happened and the inevitability of space thanks to Steven Price’s score) initially, but looking back, several hours later, I’m in awe.
What would it look like if you were the sole survivor? This isn’t the first movie to ask the question, but the depth and width and endlessness of space (in time as we know it) makes this a ridiculously different kind of movie. How would you cope? Now, that’s the more interesting question. And Kowalski’s involvement (I guessed how that worked, early on) shows a different side of how we cope with stress, survival, and isolation. But the thing is, we don’t have to go to space to find our lives flying out of control. We can face losing it all without going to space, and try to figure out what’s important and what has to be held onto. What would you lean on? That’s the question to end all questions, I think.
This is the second film (Children of Men being the first) where I have to scratch my head at the Catholic/faith sentimentalities of Cuaron’s mind. Again, a child plays a major role as “savior,” but here, it’s saving to and saving from. Ryan has been incapacitated by her daughter’s accidental and unnecessary death to the point where she just drives to work, and home, and work, and home. Now, she must find the strength to move forward, to get to safety, to return to Earth, to get unstuck. But in the process, she is both blessed by her daughter’s memory and freed from the anguish of her daughter’s death. Gravity proves to be about the grief process as much as anything else!
But one other thing struck me, in a strange parallel to the tractor scene in Walk the Line: it seems no accident that Ryan’s safety pod not only lands in the water but also sinks to the bottom, where she is forced to strip off her space suit. Her old pattern, her present situation, threaten to drown her if she doesn’t leave it behind, and she rises, liberated- baptized- changed forever. She sinks in the mud (a new Eve rising from the murk?) and takes her first, slow, gravity-influenced steps again, a new woman with a new life.
I’m still not sure I like Gravity more than 12 Years A Slave as a movie, but Bullock ran away with the Best Actress award in my mind. Her soulfulness, her determination, her raw emotion stick with me hours later, and I’m convinced that each of us, when faced with those kinds of moments, would experience the same.