Faith & Film: Gravity

“Gravity” tells the story of two astronauts working on a space mission in which something goes terribly wrong. The mission is routine enough. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space flight, while Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) is the experienced flyer. Ryan is seriously collecting scientific data, battling a little space sickness. Matt is having a ball, telling jokes and stories while he drifts through space. Houston interrupts the mission to tell the astronauts that debris from a Russian ship is hurtling their way, and they must get inside their ship immediately. Suddenly a storm of debris comes at them (and at the audience if you watch in 3-D), killing the astronauts with the exception of Ryan and Matt. In addition, the storm seriously damages their space craft and knocks out all communication with Houston. The rest of “Gravity” chronicles the desperate attempts of the two astronauts to survive the disaster and make their way back to earth.

“Gravity” features beautiful vistas of Earth from space and astronauts dangling in the inky blackness. It’s also silent in space. Ryan likes the silence, and Matt, the jokester, kids her that she wants to stay there. Matt continues to ask Ryan about her family, and she finally tells him that she had a 4-year-old daughter who died in an accident. Ryan has never gotten over her daughter’s death, and deals with her grief in a private way.

Eventually, “Gravity” becomes Bullock’s movie, and she gives an excellent performance. She’s a sure bet for an Oscar nomination. Ryan must use all the technical knowledge she has, and then some, in order to survive. In addition, she has to summon all her courage to deal with the disaster in which she finds herself. In a poignant scene, Ryan calls out to her daughter, asking her to pray for her soul. Ryan laments that she doesn’t know how to pray. No one ever taught her how. She sheds a tear, which is immediately frozen by the cold atmosphere. Without naming God, there is definitely a spiritual dimension to “Gravity.” The final words spoken in the movie also reflects its spirituality.

Director Alfonso Cuaron handles the technical aspects of “Gravity” brilliantly, from the images of earth, to free floating items and the debris storms. Cuaron is noted for his strong visual style, noted especially in his films “Children of Men” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Never did I think this was a film shot on a set, using special effects. I always felt like I was in space, in a realm without gravity. To its great credit, the movie does not rely upon aliens or evil scientists for suspense. The suspense lies in the attempt of two astronauts, and (spoiler alert!) eventually one, to survive and get home. They have to do this with no technical support from Houston. It’s like Robinson Crusoe in space!

As good as it is, I was a little disappointed in “Gravity.” It’s good, but not the great film many critics are claiming it to be. It only really gripped me in a few scenes. The problem here isn’t running time: “Gravity” is only 91 minutes. For some reason, it just didn’t capture me as I thought it would. It’s not awe-inspiring, like Stanley Kubrick’s visionary “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Neither is terrifying, like “Alien.” “Apollo 13” was more suspenseful, even though I knew how it was going to end.
Perhaps comparing it to these great space movies is unjust. Time will tell if “Gravity” becomes a classic. For now, enjoy it on its own merits. How often do you hear a star in a blockbuster movie try to pray for her soul?

Tom Condon, OP