I’m gone for two weeks on vacation, and all the buzz I hear when I get back is that the “movie event of the year” – maybe even the decade – happened while I was gone.
Have you heard all the raving reviews for “Gravity,” the supposedly revolutionary, 3-D/Imax wonderfilm starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock? The one with the breathtaking views of earth from the dead silence of space and riveting, edge-of-your-seat action sequences?
Boy, I have.
So, is it as good as they say?
In many respects, the answer is, “Yes.”
The visual spectacle of the Earth far below, the stunning silence of space and the nerve-wrecking way the camera at times moves inside the helmet of the astronauts to make audience members feel as though they’re experiencing the harrowing action themselves create a film that is exciting, entertaining and awe-inspiring.
Clooney is brilliant as Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut on his last mission whose gentle, comforting manner is critical to survival when all hell breaks loose hundreds of miles above the Earth. Bullock handles well the role of a rookie scientist who faces imminent death when a chain reaction of busted satellites hurtles space debris through orbit like shrapnel, ripping through anything in its path … including astronauts.
“I’m going to die today,” Bullock’s character, Dr. Stone, realizes. “It’s [something] to know, but I’m still scared.”
Admittedly, the spectacle and action of “Gravity” are so captivating, when the characters’ storyline suddenly appears, it can feel a little shoehorned. And when Dr. Stone has to decide her reason for living, for going on, the film’s answers do seem a tad cliché.
But when Stone confronts her death, then “Gravity” really shines.
“No one will mourn for me,” Stone states at a moment when death seems certain, acknowledging her silent demise in the loneliness of space. “No one will pray for my soul. Or … is it too late?”
She continues with a stark realization: “No one ever taught me how to pray.”
At this climactic moment in the film (I won’t spoil what comes afterward), the gaping, painful, lonely hole in Stone’s soul is stunningly present. There’s no quick resolution, no answer offered, no one to shepherd her from life to death to the hereafter – just the vacuum of a woman facing death by herself, with no one to watch, no one to mourn, no one to talk to or comfort her, no one to even know that she is dying … just a woman and death staring into the emptiness of one another.
For Christian audiences, her words should be haunting: “No one ever taught me how to pray.”
For non-Christian audiences, I can only hope it will challenge viewers to confront their own mortality and beliefs about death and what might lie beyond it.
But most of all, I’d like to see Christian preachers, parents and neighbors reach out to those around them with a discussion of this scene – “When your time comes, what will comfort you? Will you desire an assurance from God in that moment? Or will you fear, as Stone did, that perhaps it’s too late?”
“Gravity” doesn’t give the answers. In some ways, the film feels as empty as the space it so spectacularly displays. But at the same time, that’s kind of the point – death without God, without hope, without certainty is an empty experience indeed.
- “Gravity,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 25-30 profanities and obscenities, some strong.
- The film contains a brief, unfinished anecdote told about a woman who looks like a man and several shots of Dr. Stone after she strips off her space suit, wearing a tight tank top and short, form-fitting shorts. Though there’s no romantic or sexual element to the storyline, the camera often lingers over Bullock’s physique.
- The film has several harrowing moments as space debris causes massive destruction and death (one man is seen rather graphically with a hole torn through his head), but there is no violent content between people.
- Besides the discussion of prayer and death mentioned above, “Gravity” contains a few other religious/occult references. A character appears in the film, and it’s uncertain whether the character is a vision, hallucination or actual visitor from beyond. There is also a pair of escape pods from the space stations in the film, one containing a religious icon of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child, the other a statue of Buddha. The implication is that people turn to faith in life-and-death situations (like an escape pod), and there may be a universalist implication that these faiths are equal in value, merely differing because of their origins in different cultures.