Gravitating to Purpose
Normally at this time of year, I’m plugging my ears to the conversations of my friends, as they pick at and detail all their favorite details of this year’s horror films (I’ll just saw I’m glad that the Saw series isn’t continuing on the way The Land Before Time has). With regard to film, I have to wait for the warmth of the Thanksgiving and Christmas time holidays to replace the dark and eerie season of Halloween. Then (minus the year’s tacky Christmas film) it’s onto the Oscar-nominee releases.
This year, I was pleasantly surprised to see advent of one such incredible film this October- Gravity.
In three words, I would summarize the film as such: breath-taking, attention-addicting, and emotionally-juxtaposing (ok, maybe its six words).
Perhaps you’ve heard about the 15+ minute open scene that is all one uninterrupted cut, that seamlessly pans and spins between different perspectives of the curvature of earth, the void of space, and the faces of our characters. It’s spectacular. I know of many people who could write forever praising Cuarón’s cinematic genius and the spectacular visual and audio fantasy that he makes of survival in space. I could chime in my own filmographer thoughts, but I will leave this for the professionals.
But, I write not just to put in a shameless plug for a great big-screen spectacle (and this coming from someone who watches maybe one movie a year).
I write because, in the midst of the nail-biting, flinching, and knee-jerk reactions to the film’s suspense, I was very curious about the film’s message. Although the plot is refreshingly simple- a disaster on a space mission leaves two astronauts adrift in space, and they must fight to return to Earth- Gravity explores themes and thoughts about life that are above a 3-D film’s paygrade.
Cuarón uses juxtaposition to powerfully display the radical fluctuations of life. Stone (and the audience) will be white-tense with suspense and the rush for survival, and within seconds, be left alone, with gorgeous, jab-dropping tranquity of earth’s beauty. As death was just cheated, the reward is the sweeping views of the planet that is the epicenter of life.
However, the most significant theme of the film is the exploration of the purpose of living.
The purpose of life will inevitably be explored in a survival movie. Whether it’s conversation between Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Kowalski (George Cooney) as one encourages the other to chose survival verses defeat, or the self-talk that is required to motivate survivors when by themselves, there is a searching for purpose. While some might not appreciate the brief in-roads into the character’s back-story, these dives into Stone’s life reveal a character without such purpose. She is an acclaimed scientist, a prodigy in her field. Her career work isn’t just in things pertaining to space- it seems that she has devoted most of her life to the medical field. But, why has see committed her years to this service? [spoiler…ish alerts ahead- there isn’t too much of a plot to spoil, but if you want to discover the character’s yourself- be warned] It’s not to feed the family: her only child and love died for the most pointless reason- slipping and hitting her head. Certainly fewer stories can portray the fragility of life, which can be taken in the wink of an eye as the watcher is reminded every time disaster strikes Stone in space. Kowalski asks her “Ryan, what do you do after work? What do you do when you go home?” Stone’s answer- “I drive. I just… drive.” As many of the movie-goers in their seats can relate, Stone’s life is in motion. A very busy, occupied motion. But, what is she driving for? Where is she traveling? Indeed, especially in Western culture, many of us just drive. The entertainment and the occupations of affluent society provide more than enough distraction to avoid the void inside. And in Stone’s case, when the threat of death comes, and the labor and the character required to survive is realized- one wonders if a lost life is a life worth preserving. By juxtaposing scenes of what seems to be sure carnage and doom with moments of near escape and then the lonely sound of silence, Stone is left to realize the surprise of survival, but then wonders what is so valuable about it to continue to keep it sustained.
Yet, although purpose and character begin as lacking and somewhat weak, as Stone continually overcomes the threats and fate of space (a place where no life can exist), she begins to discover more of these two. Kowalski’s words confident words of encouragement help to inspire. But really, his pep talks are the beginning to her discovery of faith. As she travels and moves in efforts to survive, she encounters different relics of faith. These religious images reflecting the objects of human hope and purpose cause her to discover perseverance, and a faith that allows her to “believe and to fight against the odds.” This is far from any notion of Christian faith, and might actually be comparable to the faith inspired by humanism. But still, I appreciate how Cuarón uses each clash with death as a way of adding purpose and vitality to life.
Although it’s no Les Miserables, Cuarón carefully offers thoughts that orbit around the deepest-elements of the human heart. This is much more than an IMAX movie-goer is looking to consume, and hopefully provides the thoughtful viewer the chance the pause, and the give careful thought, to the purpose of his or her soul on Earth (or in space)- a bonus added to your already fantastic movie ticket!