In a world where simple stories are needlessly bejazzled and crampacked with gibber it is refreshing to watch a movie that exults in its simplicity. Here is a movie titled Gravity about an astronaut in space named Stone. The narrative is as easy as falling down.
There have been numerous digs at some of the infelicitous dialogue and the scientific inaccuracies (all granted and most excused by all but the most severe pedants), but there is one questionable element that hasn’t been given the notice it deserves. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson took issue with Stone, a biomedical engineer, servicing the Hubble, but this is not an inert detail. She is there to equip the Hubble to search for a habitable planet. The movie begins with her suspended between worlds, for as we were told at the beginning: “Life in space is impossible”. She is searching for new life for the old world holds nothing for her.
The reason why life is no longer possible for her on earth is given when she tells Kowalski that she lost her daughter to a fall. Something “as stupid as that” she says. Far from being a throwaway detail or a maudlin grab for sympathy, her daughter’s death is mentioned to show that there is nothing on earth for her. Since that time she has been on the move, driving, just driving; between destinations.
A line is drawn between Kowalski and Stone when he mentions that he had a wife, who was lost to him while he was on a mission. Through death and adultery they have been rendered alone yet their perspective of earth (pardon the expression) is different.
In the beginning of the film, having fled earth, she still roils (a detail established in the fifteen minute virtuosic opening shot); green not just to inexperience but also motionsick. Her world spins. This is true well before the shrapnel sends her spinning into the black. For well over half the film she is tugged, pushed, thrown, spun and threatened with motion without rest.
Ryan Stone (played by a pitch-perfect Sandra Bullock):
- Ryan = “Little King”
- Also Ryan Stone is a pun on rhinestone, an imitation stone.
Matthew Kowalski (played by the jocose George Clooney):
- Matthew (“Gift of God”, ala Theo from Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece Children of Men).
- Kowalski = of the Blacksmith
The name on the Russian suit that Stone dons (see above) is Demidov (it bears the number 42, the answer to life: a hat tip to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). This surname comes from a prominent family of blacksmiths (Demid Antufiev, was a free blacksmith from Tula). Demidov means “of Demid”; Demid means “cunning as Zeus” and is derived from Diomedes = “Godlike”.
Aningaaq, the voice on the ham radio, is the name of the moon in Nordic mythology and means “Big Brother of a Girl”. The short film of the same title, directed by Jonás Cuarón (son of Alfonso and co-writer of Gravity), can be found here.
What better name for an astronaut than blacksmith? Matthew is the cool thinking mentor that navigates Stone through the perilous events. To survive she must become like him. His character is centered on earth, constantly falling back on stories of life on earth. His other passion is to beat the record for the longest spacewalk, an ironic phrase considering there is not one single step made in the entire movie.
To survive Stone must become like him, focused on earth.
Set in the future:
Kessler Syndrome is a potential future event in which the density of objects in low orbit become so great that a cascading series of collisions render space exploration infeasible for several generations.
Ryan refers to her mission as STS-157 in one of her transmissions. In real life, the 135th and final Space Shuttle mission was STS-135. It launched on 8 July 2011. Taking the average of manned spaceflights from the 60s to today of 28 flights every decade then mission 157 would hit some time after 2021.
The real-life Chinese Space station is named Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) and currently it consists of only one small inhabitable module. The goal of the Tiangong program is the construction of a space station much like the one in the film by the year 2022.
In Cuarón’s 2006 film The Children of Men (based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James) earth, in the year 2027, has been struck by infertility for two decades. Society is beginning to collapse.
According to the legendary account of his life Christopher was a Canaanite 7.5 feet tall. While serving the king of Canaan, he took it into his head to go and serve “the greatest king there was”. He went to the king who was reputed to be the greatest, but one day he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil. On thus learning that the king feared the devil, he departed to look for the devil. He came across a band of marauders, one of whom declared himself to be the devil, so Christopher decided to serve him. But when he saw his new master avoid a wayside cross and found out that the devil feared Christ, he left him and inquired from people where to find Christ. He met a hermit who instructed him in the Christian faith. Christopher asked him how he could serve Christ. When the hermit suggested fasting and prayer, Christopher replied that he was unable to perform that service. The hermit then suggested that because of his size and strength Christopher could serve Christ by assisting people to cross a dangerous river, where they were perishing in the attempt. The hermit promised that this service would be pleasing to Christ.
After Christopher had performed this service for some time, a little child asked him to take him across the river. During the crossing, the river became swollen and the child seemed as heavy as lead, so much that Christopher could scarcely carry him and found himself in great difficulty. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” The child then vanished.
The icon of St. Christopher is on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
When Ryan Stone turns back to earth she is embracing life in a place that, for her, has no life. She is therefore embracing the hope for new life. The world is dead to her, but harkening to the voice of the faithful blacksmith she becomes not a fake rhinestone, but a true rock, with faith that she will be fashioned into a jewel. Crawling out of the water she mutters a terse “thank you”. She is reborn, passing through the human stages of conception, through the travail of birth (despite the abortive efforts of space), in order to emerge from the amnion to stand much more than homo erectus, but as homo spes, hopeful man.