I enjoy analyzing literature and movies because at the very root it is the study of story. We all live and breath stories. Often the first question we ask someone after we find out their name is, “where did you grow up?” This invites story. Or we ask, “how did you meet your spouse?” Once again, we are asking for a story.
The beauty of a good story draws us in and affects us emotionally. Often a story is most compelling when it fits into the context of a larger more universal story. We are then allowed to interpret it on a level of shared human experience.
Watching Alfonso Coarón’s Gravity in 3D at an Imax theater was one such experience. On the surface the movie is limited in relational interaction and seems to be a series of unfortunate events, to say the least, but from a universal story standpoint it is so much more.
*SPOILER ALERT* Most major plot points of the movie Gravity are discussed below:
We first meet Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on a space walk recalibrating a piece of damaged equipment on the Hubble telescope. A medical engineer who has been trained as an astronaut, she appears shaky and unsure of herself. She tells Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), “I hate space.” Which begs the question, what is she doing out there? What exactly she fixes and why she is qualified to fix it do not seem important plot elements to the writers.
What is important to the writers is that she appear lost. Both literally and figuratively, Dr. Ryan Stone becomes lost in space. Here is where the universal story comes in. Though Hollywood might deny it or call it something else, nearly all of our stories deal with redemption, and imbedded in many stories in both movies and literature, we find a Christ figure.
Early in the film, debris repels Dr. Stone off of the telescope and into an untethered free fall in space. She is lost. Matt Kowalski has to come find her. As they are slowly floating toward the space station, we find out that Dr. Stone had a little girl who died in a playground accident. Ryan received the phone call while driving home and has been lost ever since. She tells Kowalski, that she gets off work and just drives.
Kowalski is able to locate Stone and fly to her location using an outdated jetpack. He then tethers her to him and carefully maneuvers them back to the now destroyed shuttle. They continue their spaceflight to an abandoned russian space station. They approach too fast and bounce off grabbing for whatever they can. At this point, Stone’s legs are wrapped in cording attached to the space station while Kowalski, still tethered to her, is drifting into space. Kowalski realizes that his weight and trajectory will eventually pull them both away from the station and in a move reminiscent of many mountain climbing movies, cuts himself loose.
He sacrifices his life to save hers.
Once inside the space station, Dr. Stone removes her spacesuit and floats for a moment of tranquil sleep in a dancer’s pose evoking emotions of peace, surrender, and complete fatigue. However, her journey is not over. This space station contains a module that will allow her to reach a Chinese space station that contains a space capsule able to enter earth’s atmosphere. She detaches the Russian space module full of hope and one step closer to home.
The module is out of gas. At this point she despairs for her life and decides it is better to turn the oxygen down and drift into death. Clooney, (her Christ figure) comes to her in a dream (in spirit) and shows her the way.
She wakes up, restores pressure to the cabin, and for the first time in the movie, we see life and determination in her soul. Through a manipulation of the jets used in landing she is able to reach the Chinese space station and man that capsule through earth’s atmosphere.
The capsule parachutes into water. Dr. Stone frantic to get out, opens the door allowing water in that sinks the capsule. She narrowly escapes and surfaces with a life-giving breath. Crawling her way to shore and haltingly standing tall, we see a new resolve. Her despair, and disorientation in space have turned to exhiliration and joy to be alive.
Interwoven in this poignant redemption story is cinematography beyond rival and flawless performances by Bullock and Clooney.