I loved this movie.  It doesn’t hurt that it was directed by one of my favorite directors Alfonso Cuarón, and had two very appealing actors and it was about space.  Which made it even more awesome.  I know Neil DeGrasse Tyson had a fit about the movie because you can’t see the ISS from the Hubble, etc. etc.  I don’t care.  This wasn’t a NASA documentary.  It wasn’t a space disaster movie a la that terrible mess ARMAGEDDON.  It was a movie about rebirth and the courage to live.  About the fact that millions of years ago distant stars died, and sent what was left of them streaking across the galaxy to fall onto an insignificant ball of dirt and become life.  It was beautiful.




Okay,  movie was symbolism.  It was metaphor.  It was philosophy.  It was about life and and children and continuance as are so many of Cuarón’s films — CHILDREN OF MEN, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.  I loved the fact that the opening card stresses that humans have no business being in space.  It is unlivable in way unmatched by any other environment.  It was great to see astronauts not “upright” but tackling their work from all angles because there was no up or down.  I loved the tip of the hat back to APOLLO 13 with having Ed Harris as the voice of  Mission Control.  I adore the choice that makes this movie about the woman rather than a man.

George Clooney as Matt, the tale telling astronaut drops out of the film quite early in the story and that was perfect because he is the sage, the guide.  He is Obi Wan Kenobi, and Obi Wan Kenobi has to die so the young Luke ( or in this case, Ryan) can learn to face adversity and succeed.  The little stories that he’s always starting are about the kaleidoscope of life that he has experienced.  He talks about his regrets that this is his last time, it’s almost over, and he makes the sacrifice for Ryan.  She promises to come get him, and that’s when I tensed up.  Was this about to become a typical Hollywood movie?

But no.  She doesn’t fly a re-entry vehicle over to find him.  He’s gone, but I loved, loved, loved the spirit scene as she’s starting to hallucinate.  There are all these calls to Freemasonry and the trials of the soul.  When Ryan first enters the ISS there are a few droplets of fire as she floats through a module.  It soon becomes a conflagration.  In the capsule ice begins to cover the windows.  I though having the books that she checks as she struggled to untether, and free her seed pod from it’s bonds were great.

This is a beautiful film on so many levels.  Yes the shots of Earth and the stars, but the way Ryan hung inside an airlock as a small embryo waiting to be born.  The globs of floating fire.  And Ryan’s silver tears floating slowly away from her face.  Breathtaking.

I probably could have done without the capsule actually sinking into the lake.  Just having her emerge from the water onto dry land, this small bit of star stuff returning to Earth to stand upright would have been enough, but the director wanted a full “birth” so, okay, I give him a pass on the capsule sinking.

There are just so many traditions and legends embodied in this movie.  In the opera the Magic Flute by Mozart Tamino and Pamina have to endure trials of fire and water before they can be reborn as masons. Cuaron added ice to Ryan’s trial and I thought that was perfect.

I think this is a movie of beauty and heart and thought, and I highly recommend it.  Just don’t go expecting to see George Clooney shooting a .50. calibre machine gun at space debris and saving the entire Earth.  This is a movie about rebirth.  So feel joy for Ryan’s return to life.

16 Responses to GRAVITY

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    The other thought I had about this film is that it is a visual haiku.

  • Raymond says:

    Hi Melinda,

    I saw Gravity this past weekend and, like you, loved every second.

    I don’t usually like 3D movies but it is used perfectly for this film. I was so enraptured by the story I forgot I was wearing glasses for the 3D effect.

    Spaceflight has captured my imagination since the early days of the Apollo program. And this film really brought home the harshness of the environment and the dangers of living/working in space.

    I can’t speak to any inaccuracies in the film from a technical or logistical perspective. It all looked and sounded realistic enough for me to suspend any disbelief I may have had.

    Sandra Bullock did a terrific job (as did George Clooney). But, the focus is really on Sandra’s character.

    I’m thinking I’ll have to see this film again. It deserves a second viewing.

    Take care.

    — Ray

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I usually find that a movie fades from my mind and my focus very quickly, but I just kept thinking about this movie all day, and the more I thought the more I loved it. It speaks to the deepest drives in humans, and I thought it was beautiful.

  • Melinda,

    Thank you for writing this piece about the film.

    I heard some negative things about it. In particular, the way in which it was not accurate to actual items available to the space program.

    I love NASA. I love the space program. And I love the thought of even being an astronaut.

    With all that said, I am on the same team as you… it’s a MOVIE… it is meant to say something to the heart, mind, and soul of the viewer.

    I view this movie as a fantastic art piece, and I started to see how the symbolism tied together when you started presenting it, one at a time. (I saw the “embryo” in the airlock, but I missed out on the other aspects… also… umbilical cord! She was tethered to George Clooney. I don’t even know why it didn’t hit me until now).

    I am definitely going to watch the movie, again, to catch the parts that I didn’t see beforehand!

    Enjoy your weekend,

    – Shän

  • I loved that it’s a MOVIE. It wouldn’t really work in any other form — it’s too simple for a novel, and the depth of backstory and explanation that novels require would have ruined the minimalist simplicity. Ditto TV, comics, whatever. It makes perfect use of what’s unique in movies, the visual depth, the ability to layer meaning on top of meaning with only the bare minimum of plot and dialogue. But it takes a great director to do it, and great actors, and this film had both.

    I also loved that it made no concession to formula. It would have had screenplay formula teachers tearing their hair out — no antagonist, inciting incident too early, etc, etc. Instead of regurgitating cold leftovers from screenplay class, it told the story it needed to, the way it needed to… and has scored massive commercial success with it. May we see many more like this…

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    The tethering to Clooney also made me think of father’s and daughters. He came for her, he found her, and at the right moment he set her go to find her own life, and to make her own way. Really affects me just typing this because I adored my father, and he did all that and more for me.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Really good points, Joel. It’s why I love writing screenplays. I hate internal dialog. Writing it a terribly chore for me. In film you let an actor’s face and the visuals do that job for you.

    I really hated the movie Armageddon — large men on big machines bouncing up and down with .50 caliber machine guns — over the top “acting”, etc. etc. The quiet of this movie, even in the action moments was wonderful. It gave you time to reflect on the issues he was exploring.

    I will make a brief statement in defense of formula when it’s understood more as tapping into deep human experience and emotion. Formula is part of the “keeping your promise” thing that I have written about at length in other posts. Particularly concerning Mass Effect 3.

  • Syd Henderson says:

    Cuaron made some dramactic adjustments. I noticed the Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope were in orbits of similar inclination, which they would have been if we hadn’t put the Space Station in an orbit that could be serviced from Baikonur. (Thia becomes clear when we learn that Tiangong’s orbit is inclined 13 degrees from that of the ISS; actually it’s 13 degrees from the Space Telescope and 9 degrees in the opposite direction from the ISS).

    Excellent movie. The best I’ve seen this year.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    You have way more technical knowledge then me, Syd. I had read that Tyson was upset, but it’s a movie not a documentary, and the theme wasn’t _space is dangerous_. Yes, that was the surface message, but it was so much more than that. Like everybody who has posted here I loved this movie. It is the best thing I’ve seen this year. I enjoyed RUSH, but it felt distant, and I never really connected. GRAVITY was visceral.

  • Oh I like formula, in its place. But the good writers and directors need to know what all the rules are, so they know when to break them. Some films lend themselves to that structural formula, so there’s no need to ditch it. But this film didn’t, and many of the formula ‘rules’ would have ruined it (you need an antagonist, you need to wait until the quarter-time mark before the shuttle gets hit, etc) so they ditched it. Great to see Warner Bros being that flexible, and not killing with dogma what turned out to be a great movie. And getting financial reward for it, because they deserve every cent for daring to make it, as with Inception.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Absolutely agree, Joel. I think maybe I’m using formula in a slightly different way. The guys who finished Mass Effect 3 were trying very hard not to do formula, but to be “edgy” and “thought provoking”, but they understand the basic rules. Most important one being — don’t break your promises to your viewer/reader/player.

    And yes, a slavish devotion to Syd Fields would have made GRAVITY a travesty. Clooney would have saved them both probably by using a big gun to destroy the debris. 🙂 I think one of the things I liked so much about this film is that it was a stupid mistake that created a destructive force that has no animus against our heroes or the Earth or any other damn thing. It was again a metaphor for an unfeeling universe that doesn’t even notice us. We’re not even a flea on it’s hide. It’s what Ryan had inside — her spirit if you will — that gave her stature.

    I’m groping a bit here, but this movie is a giant onion. You just keep peeling layers.

  • Thought of one more reason I loved it — it reaffirmed the great hope of human space exploration, that by exploring space, even as we expose ourselves to all those dangers, we will learn who we are.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    Meaning and interpretations aside (and it’s true they add even more to the movie), I thought it was just breathtaking visually speaking. It’s the first time I’m so impressed by a 3D movie and in a way, the movie is ABOUT dimensions, on a formal plan, I mean. It still would be “3D” even if it hadn’t been shot in 3D. I’d never seen a movie that abolished so drastically the notions of verticality and horizontality.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    After reading your post, I was trying to figure out which elements could be related to a masonic initiation (whatever Cuaron’s real intentions !). And pretty much everything was there, maybe not in the correct order, but still there (and who cares about the order anyway : the movie can’t be reduced to a metaphor).
    First, you have this notion of “journeys”, which lead to a form of purification. Purification by fire, by air, by water. As you said, Matt is the “master”, the helping hand which helps you throughout these journeys. The first journey is accomplished alone : it is the most disturbing and you’re… totally blind. Then someone catches you and although you still can’t really see, you know where to go.
    In some rites (many of them, I assume ?), you have to swallow a “bitter liquid”. I was wondering if there was any trace of it in the movie. And yes, of course : the bottle of vodka ! Maybe it’s some kind of over-interpretation (after all, vodka is _not_ really bitter), but… well, it really fits in the whole, and you have the feeling it was important at a symbolic level. Not many things happen in this movie, and every tiny elements is precious and meaningful.
    The Soyouz is of course a metaphor for the mother’s womb, but it reminds us of the “cabinet” where the soon-to-become mason writes his testament. And in a way, that’s exactly what Ryan does at some point. Thinking about her past life, wishing for the future… Instead of using a pen, she uses a radio. But that’s about the same. And after all, masonry is all about death and rebirth.

    I found interesting that the main character is called “Ryan” (a guy’s name) and that she is short-haired. This androgynous approach raises us to a more universal level : it’s not the story of a _girl_, it’s the story of a human being. Until very recently, french freemasonry was a man’s world – I don’t know if it’s still the case in America.

    Oh, one last thing. I read the guy she talks with over the radio at the end is an Inuit. Inuits are people from the North. I found this very interesting just as well. Let me quote the Grand Lodge Of Texas :

    “As Masonry moved from the operative to the speculative, it was natural that the north would continue to symbolically represent the darkness of the working structures. As such, the north represents the profane world and symbolizes ignorance, as study and examination are not possible in darkness. So it is fitting this symbol is presented to the Entered Apprentice during his initiation. In this act, the candidate enters a new stage of his life dedicated to improving himself morally and seeking a better understanding of his relationship with the Creator. As such he seeks enlightenment, leaving behind the darkness of ignorance”

    Well, that’s it 🙂 But maybe I forgot something (I mean, other than english grammar !)

  • Andy Greenhouse says:

    I saw this film on opening weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d only heard it was good. Plus, I love Sandy Bullock, so … I was BLOWN AWAY from the moment the film opened. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I knew it was about the courage to go on living under incredibly difficult circumstances despair..but the concept of “rebirth” never crossed my mind. (‘Til I read your review) Makes perfect sense. I was also glad that we had a woman who was the survivor here. I was very moved by the scene where she was in the “womb” of the capsule, like a fetus. That was very cool. This is a film I could see several times, as there was so much to digest. Just wonderful.

  • Andy Greenhouse says:

    “Really affects me just typing this because I adored my father, and he did all that and more for me.”

    That’s beautiful, Melinda. My Dad did too. 🙂 That scene was very moving, poignant, and powerful.

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