A still from the movie, "Gravity".
MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, A-III
(5 Reels out of 5)
[Editor's note: Alert!
Space is empty, void of matter, energy, heat,
and any chance of survival for the smallest bacteria, much less a
human being. It is a testament to human ingenuity that, since 1961,
explorers have been entering and even living in this vast and silent
wasteland. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a soaring
witness to these feats, an excellent thriller that revels in the
ferocity of nature, the power of prayer, and the triumph of man as
image of the Creator. In an Icarian age, Gravity is an
important reminder that despite centuries of technology, all are
still in the hands of God, and that is a good thing they are the
hands of a loving Father.
In classic Cuarón style,
the first fifteen minutes of Gravity is a single,
uninterrupted take that weaves seamlessly between engineer Dr. Ryan
Stone (Sandra Bullock) and NASA astronaut Matt Kowalski (George
Clooney) as they repair the Hubble telescope 600km above the surface
of the Earth. It’s a breathtaking sequence that rivals any in
cinematic history as the audience sees the immensity of the planet
and outer space juxtaposed with close-ups of the scientists chatting
casually like car mechanics.
This is Stone’s first
trip, and she is nervous and undisciplined. Kowalski is just hours
from breaking the record for spacewalk duration and moves around
easily, as if he was trimming his own backyard. Suddenly, debris from
a satellite crash rips through their shuttle leaving them stranded in
space. It is violent and terrifying, especially since it happens
without any sound save for the heightened pace of Stone gasping for
air and the nerve-racking radio communications between her and
Miraculously, the two
survive, but their shuttle is destroyed. They must maneuver over to
the International Space Station's damaged escape pod, not to escape
but use it to reach the Chinese station, which does have a functional
return capsule. En route, Kowalski encourages Stone talk to him about
her life on Earth; she reveals had a daughter who died in a
playground accident. Upon reaching the ISS, Kowalski sacrifices
himself to give Stone a chance to live. Alone in a foreign world with
little knowledge, Stone must survive the returning orbital debris,
drive the escape pod to the other station, and finally operate the
return capsule (in Chinese) to return home.
Thinking she has failed,
Stone begins to cry, making small tear droplets that float in her
tiny vessel. She tries to pray but admits that no one ever taught her
how. The film critic Stephen
Greydanus notes how people in disaster movies never seem to pray
even when their lives are close to ending. Stone’s frustrated
desire to pray is not only accurate to human nature but a sad
reflection on how an agnostic society has failed her. Desperate and
overwhelmed, she decides to kill herself by turning off the oxygen.
At this moment, Cuarón steers the film in a new direction. Stone has
a vision where Kowalski visits and tells her how to operate the pod.
Whether this is the last firings of a dying brain or a visitation
from a new saint is unclear. Then again, couldn't it be both? The
experience gives Stone the courage to continue but also to pray. She
asks Kowalski to tell her daughter that she loves her and asks them
to pray for her safe return. There’s also a short insert of a St.
Christopher icon taped to the inside of the pod by the Russians. Not
only is God present, so are the saints.
Cuarón is the master of big
and small, showing the awe of the universe amid the tiny pleas of
miniscule humans, without losing respect for either. The Sun, Earth,
and endless space form the constant background of this film, filling
the screen. This is a rare movie that is worth the price of IMAX 3D.
It is fitting that Gravity was released on the Feast of St.
Francis because it is a loving ode to the awe of creation and the God
that fastened it. Creation is beautiful because it was made by God
but it can also be vicious and unpredictable because it is tainted by
In the beginning of the
film, Kowlaski is amazed by the view while Stone simply works on her
software repair. He tells her to “enjoy the ride.” By the end of
the film, Stone has accepted this grace. At any moment any person
could have the unfortunate fate of Stone’s daughter. As dangerous
as space seems, it is little different than the vulnerability of
living on solid ground. Having a full existence requires following
Christ’s advice to “not worry about your life.”
The last line of the film
has a character utter that all-important theological phase: “Thank
you.” Amidst the enormity of creation and the microcosm of
individual human lives, all one can feel is awe and gratitude. This
is the true spiritual gift called “the fear of the Lord.” Nature
could simply wipe all life away in the instant, and yet God saves,
time and time again. A true theology of creation propels men to
worship God, give thanks, and live lives of great joy.
As St. Francis said in his
Canticle of the Sun, “Praise and bless my Lord, and give
thanks, and serve Him with great humility.”