Gravity is not a film about space. You may be forgiven for thinking it is, after all it’s set in space, with beautiful scenes of space and glorious sequences that frankly ensnare the eyes and wonder alike, and seems to be about a thing that could only happen in space. Well that’s right, but you’d be wrong if you thought that’s what the film is about.
Gravity is a film about rebirth. Obvious, yes, from the symbolic imagery of Sandra Bullock’s character when she arrives on the ISS and floats, foetal, with the tube from the space suit curling up from her belly like an umbilical cord? Not really. That’s framing. Visual metaphor. The film goes far deeper than that.
It starts with that back story so many people appear to have found overblown in its sentiment, and unnecessary, tacked on for effect. But, you see, they are the very people who have mistaken this for a film about space. And it’s not. Nor is the backstory there for effect. The back story. HER back story, is what the movie is about. It is the driving force. The raison d’être.
Ryan Stone has lost her daughter. Oh my existential crisis alert! NO. Fuck off. She has LOST HER DAUGHTER. And not through some terrible heartless hit and run, or a disease, or a kidnapping, or a drive-by shooting, or mall shooting, or school shooting; none of that usual high octane, high drama hollywood bullshit (that is based on events that happen to real fucking people and is therefore not so overblown after all, which we tend to forget in our cynicism). No, Ryan Stone’s daughter died after tripping in the playground.
So utterly avoidable.
Just a silly little accident, and a life is gone.
Which is the basis of her oh-so-fucking-aggravating-to-so-many-cinema-goers existential crisis. Think about it, cynics all. You can be angry with a shooter, with an idiot in a car, hell you can be angry with a disease. Who doesn’t get ENRAGED when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer or MS or motor-neurone disease? But a simple accident? No one to blame. Just trip, impact, death. One of those thoughtless little moments life throws at you, that you don’t know what to do with. Because her daughter was there, and then she was gone. Forever.
Ryan Stone was in the car when she received the phone call from the school. And she’s never got past that moment. She sleeps, goes to work, then drives for hours. As a mother I recognise that instinct. If I am driving, it says, then maybe they will call and tell me it’s a mistake. My daughter didn’t trip, didn’t die, I can go to the school right now and pick her up. Vital. Alive. Warm. Here. She knows this is a lie. But she drives anyway. What else is there to do? Her daughter is gone, and she cannot go on without her. She cannot move forward. She has given up on life.
That’s where space comes in.
She’s in space to fix something (pay attention to that, it’s important). Oh and, for those who appear to have found that improbable, experts are called upon all the time to fix things they’ve made for other people. If it’s urgent and they need to go somewhere dangerous, then I’m sure six months training would have to be sufficient. So there’s that. Then of course the Russians destroying their satellite. I agree that was ridiculous. That was also the catalyst. Because this is not a film about space, or Russians doing questionable things with their own satellites. It is a film about loss, and coming out the other side of it. And it had to start somehow.
Gravity is a film about rebirth. Not the hippy-dippy-tree-hugging oh my god I’m going to vomit this is so beyond sentimental and puke-worthy kind either. So forget that.
It all starts with her trying to fix a thing, and not being able to (remember, I said that was important). First, nothing she does makes the problem go away, and then life intervenes and denies her the chance to continue trying (seem familiar?). From this moment of frustration, followed by sheer terror, Ryan Stone will go from sleep walking through life, to facing the end with absolute peace because she believes she has nothing to live for anymore, because she does not CARE enough about her existence to continue it, because without her daughter in her arms there is no POINT to her existence. Then she will go from that reality to the reality of acceptance. The final stage of grief. The hardest one. The one where you say ‘I am profoundly broken, there is a hole in me that will never be fixed, but I am not dead, and I must continue. I will.’.
From the moment she enters the ISS and assumes that oh-so-cliched, dear Hades we’re in 2001 again but there’s no Kubrick and I’m feeling slightly nauseous, fetch me my smelling salts nurse! foetal position – we begin her journey to acceptance. Space is the catalyst, and it is, in its entirety, the metaphor. To be entirely bloody earth mother hippy-tastic, it is the womb from which she is reborn into a life where her daughter is gone but that fact no longer holds her in stasis, and you can forget the isolation, the silence, the fear – she was there before she ever went to space. In that sense, space was merely a mirror through which we saw her inner reality. As I said, space is the metaphor.
I have rarely ever seen a movie wherein the visual landscape so perfectly embodies the emotional landscape of the protagonist. This folks is what cinema can do. If you weren’t paying attention to that, then that’s your bad. It was perfection. I even disagree that the script was crap. It wasn’t faux profound, nor was it too pedestrian. It was human. I liked that. I get fed up of movies that try to be too fucking philosophical with the script, with everyone spouting off soundbites everywhere. We aren’t all Plato ffs. I also get fed up of movies where everyone is perfect and always knows what to say. We aren’t and we don’t.
Yes, there were moments when I questioned, for instance when she’s all out of air and there’s only air in her suit, but she seems to be able to breathe it for ages. I forgave that, though. Know why? I was INSIDE this movie. I lived it, breathed it, I cried, I laughed. When does that happen anymore in blockbusters? And this was a blockbuster. No doubt about it. It was a blockbuster with a heart, and it was magnificent, and moving, and wonderful.
And it was not about space.
Just in case you wanted to question that assertion, I include for your pleasure the spinoff made of the other side of her conversation in the escape pod. Listen to what he says about the dog. I cried buckets. It is everything the movie was about. Listen for the gunshot at the end. Absolute, beautiful synchronicity. Incredible symbolism. Love. It:
Kudos here given to Sandra Bullock, for a heartfelt, agonising performance, and to Alfonso Cuarón, for a superb job making a movie (but really guys, he directed Children of Men, another magnificent movie, so who was surprised by the brilliance of Gravity? I wasn’t. I have found myself surprised by the cynicism of some of the responses to it, but there we go…).
I give this movie, unsurprisingly, five out of five flies. *imagine them here, I’m not having wordpress put a fly up as the bloody homepage image for this review*