This week my colleague ‘bullied’ me into seeing Gravity at the cinema. He wanted someone to talk about it with. I can see why. It’s one of those films that needs, deserves even, to be dissected. So that is how I spent my Friday afternoon, sat in the dark wearing 3D glasses with a bag of unopened M&Ms beside me, engrossed. (Don’t worry, the bag is now opened and being devoured.)
Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a genius medical engineer, working on her first space mission with astronaut veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) when they are hit by debris and their shuttle is destroyed. Gravity is a story about survival in an environment that humans weren’t made for.
First of all, Gravity is aesthetically incredible. It has been said that Gravity is a film to only be seen in 3D and it’s true. I abhor 3D but the technique adds to the rich texture of space. The visuals are breathtaking and the 3D comes into its own as the shuttle is pelted with debris, or while watching everyday objects from the shuttle floating around. Unless you have a 3D TV, I highly recommend seeing it at the cinema, purely for the 3D effects.
The sound is also remarkable. The silence of space is heavy at times, and can be terrifying. It builds up the tension and the concept of isolation but it is even more scary in that it is based on fact. In space, there is no noise, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a sure path to madness.
The acting is also astounding. While watching this film, the thought that Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar for this film kept popping into my head. I dread to think of what she had to go through to make this film and she deserves awards and our undying love for the effort (she already has the latter from me, so fingers crossed for the Oscar).
**Spoiler alert – please do not read on until you have seen Gravity**
Gravity is like a special kind of horror film. There’s no blood or gore, or people running screaming from a monster. There’s no psychopath, or paranormal demons twisting the human body into grotesque shapes. No, Gravity is the worst of all the horror films. It plays on an unspoken and founded fear; isolation. Like being buried alive, the idea of being untethered and drifting in space brings on the sort of terror that makes you vomit and then sit in a darkened corner, rocking and hugging your knees.
With most horror films there is always a hope for survival. There is always an escape route, even if our heroes die at the end. In space, there isn’t. If you find yourself untethered in space, eventually your thrusters will die and your oxygen will deplete and you will die.
My colleague, in trying to tempt me into seeing the film, told me that he found the ending fascinating. He mentioned the word ‘rebirth’. Which is probably way I noticed so much symbolism. To be honest, it’s easy to miss. The story itself is so horrific, anyone can be forgiven for sitting on the edge of their seat simply willing Dr Stone to survive, in any way possible, or impossible.
I doubt that, had he not said that one word to me, I would have noticed the foetal position that Dr Stone adopts as she relishes the oxygen and freedom from her space suit when she finally makes it into the space station. Or her struggle onto land in the closing scene, as she pulls herself from the water, which immediately brought to my mind the concept of being born.
The imagery of gravity towards the end is also a powerful one. After an hour of experiencing space and weightlessness with her, along with the fear of drifting, being back on Earth is strange and almost alien. She’s unsteady on her feet, like a small child (again with the rebirth analogy) and the gravity is like a wonderful friend, making her feel safe.
I must admit that I wanted so much for Dr Ryan to live that I didn’t consider the real possibilities. Of course it went through my mind that she was surviving almost impossible situations, but there is always a chance of survival, so why shouldn’t she?
The truth is, what can we really trust about what she is going through? From the moment that Clooney’s Kowalski appears by her side after she shuts off her oxygen, we know that she is inclined to see things that aren’t there.
Google Gravity and you find comparisons to Lost. Did Dr Stone die in space? Perhaps when she chose to, shutting off the oxygen, slipping into a sleep and dreaming of Kowalski saving her, of her saving herself and making it home. In truth, she could have died at any point. Even at the beginning, as she drifts away from the shuttle and loses radio contact with everyone. Kowalski comes to her rescue very suddenly when before she had no radio contact and no visual.
The human mind is a tricky thing. It can make us see what we want to see. It may have made Dr Stone experience her journey back to Earth, just as it made me ignore all of the signs and believe that she had made it home. Still, I find it interesting that she continues to put life and death situations in her own way, if that is the case.
So the next question is did she make it back to Earth? She lands in a beautiful spot with seemingly no population. I wonder what she would find if she can discover civilisation. Would Kowalski and her daughter be waiting for her? Or would NASA make her a hero?
Saying all of that, it will cheer up the optimists out there to know that the director, Alfonso Cuarón, says that she does survive, and it is his story so I think we can believe him. A story that ultimately speaks of the human condition and fragile life. Gravity is a beautiful, heartfelt film full of action and gut wrenching silence. It has also confirmed for me that, even given the opportunity, I will never, ever, go into space.