Don’t believe the hype. Gravity is not a ground-breaking film in any way. Yes, it’s well made. It takes the risk – for a Hollywood blockbuster – of allowing some moments of poetry and silence. But it is basically a monster/serial-jeopardy film in the mould of Jurassic Park or the recent World War Z, where the beast takes the form of the terrors of space itself. And there is nothing here – cinematically or existentially – that was not present in 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. So much for progress.
[COMPLETE PLOT SPOILERS NOW FOLLOW]
The spiritual awakening of the Sandra Bullock character, however, is done well. She is a mother who lost her young daughter in a playground accident. Since then she has been broken and alone; working hard as a scientist and then killing the hours in her free time by just driving around aimlessly. She has no real reason to live and no faith.
When all hope of survival seems to have run out, two-thirds into the film, and when she finally faces the reality of death in space, these are her words:
No-one will mourn me. No-one will pray for my soul.
I would pray myself, but no-one ever taught me how to pray…
No-one taught me how to pray…
This is an image of faith as something completely natural to the human heart. When we realise our inherent fragility, our mortality; when we stare into the existential void without shrinking away; then we can’t help asking what is the ultimate and enduring meaning of our life, and how our connection with others will stretch beyond the grave (‘no-one will pray for my soul’); we can’t help wondering if there is a God who is present with us now and who will come to meet us at death (‘no-one ever taught me how to pray’).
There is a startling innocence about the Sandra Bullock character at this moment – in her vulnerability and with all the masks discarded – as her heart articulates without any self-consciouness the simplest and most profound human questions of faith.
And the final word, when she makes it back to earth alive, indeed the only word uttered, is ‘thank you’, as she feels the sand beneath her body and staggers to her feet. We don’t know who she is thanking, and she probably doesn’t know herself. But after this near-death experience it is impossible not to give thanks for the life she has been given back.
The heart, once again, becomes aware of a spiritual need (in this case to give thanks) that points to a transcendent Other, the Creator, the Lord who gives life and who never abandons us – even if we don’t have the words or concepts at hand to help articulate this need.
So I was disappointed by Gravity as a film, but it had enough spiritual insight to warrant the price of the ticket.