[Note: This post contains spoilers for the movie so if you plan to see it and don’t want it ruined, stop reading.]
Due to the workload of school, I fell desperately behind these last few months on my up-to-datedness with all things pop culture. As an aside, taking 18 hours of classes, grading, and working part-time isn’t recommended if you value sleep.
Nonetheless, I recently (finally!) had the opportunity to watch Gravity and, at the risk of sounding terribly dramatic, I could not stop thinking about it for weeks. Until then, I had never had such a unique and gripping viewing experience. Between its emphasis on the visual and audible aspects and Sandra Bullock’s incredible performance accompanied by a haunting scene-specific score, I felt as though I was gasping for air right alongside her.
The story centers on a small crew of astronauts who are deployed with the responsibility of repairing an apparently injured Hubble telescope. It opens with a beautiful 18-minute shot encapsulating the scenery of outer space and a jovial exchange between Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Their banter is quickly interrupted by warnings from the ground station that high-speed space debris is rapidly approaching due to the recent destruction of a Russian satellite. While attempting to return to the shuttle, metallic shrapnel begins tearing through their equipment destroying their transportation and fellow astronauts as well as the object of their mission, the telescope. Kowalski and Stone are the only survivors, the latter having had her tether sliced through causing her to tumble helplessly into outer space.
From there begins the thrill ride of Gravity.
It soars to highlight the greatness of mankind and its technological prowess while simultaneously plunging into the terror accompanying humanity’s confrontation with its own mortality. Existing in an environment like outer space requires incredible scientific advancement, the likes of which have only been achieved by human beings. Oxygen is supplied within air-sealed suits and vehicles that permit life to temporarily continue. Though a simple puncture of any kind inevitably results in a terminal exhale.
For Dr. Stone, it was her lack of a secure anchor that sent her wildly spinning into the universe. As she frantically searched for some kind of security, the film perfectly captured both the brilliance and the frailty of human beings who are made in the image of a God who personally created the distant stars and knows them each by name. Though our achievements are numerous and great, even they fall short in providing that protection and help for which we are all desperate.
However, the aspect of the film that affected me most deeply was the clear theme of rebirth throughout the storyline. Though little backstory is offered for Dr. Stone, it is clear that she is a broken woman. Despite her obvious accomplishments in education and medical engineering, life has dealt her sorrows that have not been outweighed. She lives in a small midwestern town of which she thinks little and has lost her only daughter in a tragic accident. Her character is marked by melancholy and isolation as those closest to her seem to continually vanish, including Kowalski who sacrificially gives his own life to offer her the chance for survival. No one remains; no one is waiting.
In a poignant moment of the film, Stone resigns to her seemingly inescapable death as she is stranded in a landing pod with an empty fuel tank after barely escaping a space station yet again riddled by satellite debris. After turning out the lights and cutting off the oxygen output, she drifts. Out of nowhere, Kowalski comes knocking at the door and victoriously enters the pod. Though it becomes clear that the ensuing conversation is a dream, he confronts her resignation and offers a hope for rescue that she had not previously considered – a final option that could provide her pod the push required to reach the Chinese space station and eventually get back home, but only if she wants it.
This scene is particularly powerful due to the whispers of rebirth that precede it. On multiple occasions, Stone seems hopelessly lost only to find rescue and refuge. Upon reaching the first space station with only fumes of oxygen remaining in her tank, she removes her spacesuit and affords herself a moment of relief, suspended in a form resembling that of a child in the womb of his mother. Having lost so much, one wonders what her answer is to the dream-Kowalski’s question:
“What’s the point of going on? What’s the point of living?”
Resignation would have been the easy way out. No more pain. No more suffering the sorrows of life. But the hallucination of her former colleague instills within her the resolve to press on. Her connection with the person who gave his life to spare her own made life worth living in that moment.
As the film draws to a close, Dr. Stone re-enters the atmosphere through a Chinese vessel and crashes in a large body of water where she is again faced with death. Water fills her pod, so she sheds her space suit and swims to the surface where she finds she can breathe freely. Upon reaching the shore, Stone offers what seems to be a simple prayer (“Thank you”), something she said she had never learned to do earlier in the film. With the score’s crescendo resounding, she stands on weak legs, and begins to walk, alive and forever marked by her experiences; the final scene, a triumphant celebration of life.
Though director Alfonso Cuaron intends the final scene to be representative of the evolutionary process (emerging from primordial soup on all fours and standing to human form) underscoring the Darwinian depiction of human ingenuity over the adversities we face, the picture of rebirth in Gravity is rich and touching. It also closely parallels the narrative presented by the Christian faith. We too, like Stone, have little hope as we wander aimlessly through our existence, regularly preferring death to life. We too require a rebirth in which we are transformed by an encounter with Christ only to emerge from the waters of death alive in the same way he rose from the grave. We too are asked to stand, though weak, and walk into the wilderness of the world, but unlike Stone, we are not alone.
Cuaron boasts a vastly different ideological approach from that of my own, yet he strikingly portrays one of the most basic longings of creation – rebirth. In all the greatness of mankind, we have not achieved contentment and we remain frail when confronted by that which is greater than us. In Christ, rebirth is no longer merely a desire, but a reality with eternally enduring effects. Gravity is a powerful, albeit indirect, reminder of that awakening truth.