Gravity, De Beauvoir and other moments.



I finally got around to viewing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and I have to say I was suitably impressed. I know the scientific community were giving out about the mistakes but ultimately I felt the film was less about scientific accuracy and more about the isolation, loneliness and the interiority of grief. Sandra Bullock plays Ryan who, apart from being on a spacewalk which goes disastrously wrong, is dealing with her own personal tragedy. Out in space, self-contained in her spacesuit she comes to embody the manner in which grief both isolates and can, for a time, come to define us and the ways we cling to it to survive. It is a simple conceit but an effective one. However, it also reminds us that death is the ultimate existentialist idea, for it is in facing death, and therefore thinking about life, we ultimately give meaning to that life. Being in the realm of existentialism got me thinking that at the core of the film is femininity,or more properly the idea of femininity, just like that other great Sci-Fi epic Alien. Space becomes the locus were, to use the De Beauvoirian idea, immanence and transcendence can occur. Females throughout history have only existed in the interior space according to De Beauvoir and could not transcend beyond. In the beginning Ryan is trapped in her interiority, literally by her space suit and figuratively by her grief and her sense of motherhood. The image of the womb is implicitly made when Ryan enters the International Space Station but she transcends the womb (representing essentialist ideas of the female) to drive outwards from herself and in doing so begins to leave behind her grief and her fear. Finding the will to live she transcends the moment, writes her own script (and in doing so illustrates the triumph of existentialism over essentialism) and cuts the umbilical cord. In cutting that umbilical cord she shows that we can move beyond ideas of what we should be and also that the grief we carry when we experience loss does not need to define us or our future. Ryan also faces her own existentialist crisis, she momentarily loses hope and nearly surrenders to the vast nothingness. Yet it is her love that wins over despair. Kierkegaard states :’Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.’ Ryan, in choosing hope makes that decision and finds the hope in living. De Beauvoir once said ‘It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.’ In a way, Ryan illustrates that she can do both: she can give live, both to a child and herself, and she can kill the past which holds her back. At the end of the film she is reborn and free to create herself anew. In my mind Sci-Fi should deal with complex themes and make us view the normal at a different angle at that level Gravity worked for me. Go watch it!

    • Emma Galbally
    • September 15th, 2014

    Wonderful analysis of a great film. Great job.

  1. Lovely piece of writing. Haven’t seen Gravity yet but you’ve enticed me to get on with watching it.

  2. Great review, I also took awhile to watch it, but ended up really liking it! And yes definitely, it is more about the story and feeling than about accuracy. I wrote a review recently too, if you want to read it I can send the link.

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