Sunday, November 10, 2013

Defying 'Gravity'


Alone and facing almost certain death, astronaut Dr Ryan Stone reflects aloud  "No one will mourn for me. No one will pray for my soul... I’ve never prayed... Nobody has taught me how..."

Gravity is at the same time both spectacular and peculiar. It's a classic 'alone in space' thriller in the tradition of 2001, Solaris and Moon, a disaster movie with a cast of 2. You simply have to switch off the part of your brain going 'how on earth did they film that?' (the opening 17 minute spacewalk shot, Sandra Bullocks tears floating away weightless) and hold onto your seat. It will surely win a sackful of awards, but there are odd bits too. George Clooney's character - the experienced mentor to Stone's novice -  seems to be there solely to keep Bullocks character alive, and is oddly dispassionate about his own fate. 

And there's prayer. Here is a character who has a PhD, is an astronaut, can read Russian and Chinese, but can't pray because 'nobody has taught me how.' It's sad, strange, and out of character. This doesn't seem like someone who wouldn't attempt something just because nobody had taught her how. Does this line ring true? Is prayer something so peculiar that even the cleverest and most resourceful person needs teaching? Does it come naturally? Or are we now so disconnected as a culture from God that prayer is a foreign language? 

Yet there seems to be some mercy at work: as Stone is losing consciousness she hallucinates/dreams Clooneys character rejoining her and telling her how to get home - recovering consciousness to find he's not there, but that his advice in her 'dream' is spot on. Angel? 

Despite the nods to some kind of supernatural help, the film is a homage to human resourcefulness - Stone survives, and emerges from the sea onto solid ground - as she stands she almost becomes a giant, rising up to fill the entire frame, taking her first faltering steps into an untouched world. But..... as she lies on the beach, squeezing the sand between her fingers, she says 'thank you'. Who to? Maybe she's learnt to pray after all - Meister Eckhart, a medieval monk, is reputed to have said 'if the only prayer you say in life is 'thankyou', that would suffice.'

With shots of a St. Christopher icon in the Russian space station, and a buddha in the Chinese one, Gravity's bets are very well hedged. There's enough bones thrown to the large US Christian audience to keep them happy, and like lots of good stories Gravity raises questions without answering them. Parts of the movie flash REBIRTH in large letters, but doesn't resolve whether rebirth is something we achieve ourselves, or whether, as Jesus said, it's the gift of God.

Here's some other interesting reviews

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