By Christopher Binder (Lorton, Virginia, USA)


Rebirth and Giving Birth in Zero-Gravity

WARNING: Spoilers for Gravity follow below.

The theme of rebirth and the visual motif of human pregnancy runs prevalent throughout Alfonso Cuaron’s long awaited new film, Gravity. The film I think first takes a scientific view and then gradually moves towards a more spiritual, religious one at the end. We first see Earth and then the space shuttle and Hubble appear as a dot getting bigger and bigger as we (or they) come closer and closer to the screen. It’s when they first appear as a dot that I got the feeling that I was seeing a picture of a Hydrogen atom orbiting around its nucleus (the Earth). Hydrogen, as we all know (or should) is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe, yet it is also the smallest and simplest one there is on the periodic table. The first shot mimics this idea of the Macro and the Micro, with us starting off in extreme long shot and eventually going in on a single bolt that Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) has to retrieve for Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock).

Nuts and bolts are also very small, simple things that are essential parts of bigger structures, much like Hydrogen. We then hear via Houston (Ed Harris in a genius bit of voice casting) say that the Russians have sent an anti-satellite missile that has inadvertently caused a lot of high speed debris to hurtle towards the shuttle. While this is the inciting incident that kicks the rest of the film into gear, we never see the missile hit the satellite. However, you could interpret the missile and satellite as a sperm and an egg respectively. A sperm and an egg coming together is what causes the chain reaction that leads to a baby being born, just as the missile and the satellite coming together causes the chain reaction that leads to Ryan’s rebirth.

At the beginning Ryan is actually referred to by her last name, Stone. Like a stone, Ryan is essentially lifeless more or less, oblivious to the wonderful view of Earth and the stars around her. She is only focused on completing the task at hand. It’s only later on that she is called by her first name, when the re-birthing process has begun and she has started to become more characterized. Another thing I found intriguing was that there are three main places in the film: the shuttle, the Russian space station, and the Chinese one. They remind me of the three trimesters that make up a human pregnancy, which, when added together equal nine. The film itself is 90 minutes long, which can also be divided up into thirds, or the typical number of acts that make up the story structure of a feature film. Three is also a reference to the Holy Trinity in Christianity although we get an interesting close up shot of a miniature Buddha statue in the Chinese Shenzhou capsule. Take that to mean whatever you want it to (or anything else I write here for that matter).

One shot shows Ryan in a fetal position in the Russian station, which is more or less the same position a fetus is in when in its second trimester. When Ryan has decided to give up and commit suicide, it’s like an attempted abortion. Ryan attempts to “abort” her own rescue mission after finding out the Soyuz has no fuel. At the end when Ryan finally does make it back to Earth, she has to strip down to her underwear as her space suit is drowning her. She takes her first gasp of air and drags herself out of the water into the earthy mud. Water is an elemental symbol for life and earth is the stuff we all came from originally (if you believe in the bible. I do for one). Ryan then then offers up her first ever prayer, “Thank you,” to whatever deity she has now chosen to believe in, then gets to her knees, then to her feet, and then takes her first steps, reborn as a new person, facing a green wilderness of unknown possibilities.

Other thoughts:

I enjoyed the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Having there be no sound in space, the prevalent breathing sounds of the characters while in their space suits, effectively them fish out of water in the ocean of space. Even the fetal image of Ryan reminded me of the Star Child.

A bit of a reference to Alien with Ryan announcing over the headset that she was the only survivor of her crew, and the fact that she’s a woman.

Gravity feels like a companion piece to Children of Men. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why.

I enjoyed the score, especially the rising musical cue associated with the menacing debris field. Reminded me of the Joker’s theme from The Dark Knight.

I thought it was very silly having Ryan move around with a fire extinguisher. It reminded me of Wall-E.

I didn’t particularly like the shot of the satellite burning up in the sky. Looked too much like the Columbia. Just a quibble but it made me cringe a little bit.


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