Gravity and the Meaning of Life

“Meaninglessness is the plague of our time.” Ravi Zacharias

Remember the first time you saw something on the big screen so magical that possibility stretched in new ways? Gravity–a film as deep as space–puts the magic back in movies.

After watching hundreds or thousands of movies most of them blur into a forgettable swirl of entertainment. Very rarely do you come across a film significant enough to immediately make you realize the lasting impact it will have on you for years to come. Gravity is such a movie–different, powerful, beautiful, and profound.

MAJOR SPOILERS for Gravity after this point!

Gravity movie poster

Co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity is about life. The movie tells the story of Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) struggle to survive in what seems to be the most hopeless of all places–space. The film uses symbolism better than just about anything I’ve ever seen.

Space is the perfect place to tell the story of a character who isn’t grounded. Ryan Stone is empty inside, despairing the tragic loss of her young daughter. When a catastrophic accident occurs she literally spins out of control, shouting in a panicked voice that she doesn’t know where she is.

gravity-kowalskiThe commander of the mission, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), comes to her rescue and is the stabilizing force in her reeling existence. Kowalski calculates how much time they have until the deadly, orbiting obstacles speed back towards them. We’re reminded that the wreckage of life usually comes back around and sometimes you have to let go or else be destroyed by what you cling to.

Despite total loss of communication with mission control in Houston (Ed Harris), Kowalski continues one-way transmissions despite the lack of audible responses. After Kowalski’s sacrificial death, Stone continues this uncertain conversation with “Houston in the blind” throughout the film in what I took to be representative of prayer and how we shouldn’t believe our words go unheard just because we get no direct response.

When she safely reaches the Russian Soyuz capsule and curls into the fetal position, we are left to wonder if life will win. Even the cables tethering her to safety resemble an umbilical cord, but her fragile hope falters and she resigns herself to eternal sleep by cutting off the oxygen supply.

Gravity Ryan StoneAs she lingers between life and death, a vision of Kowalski reveals her epiphany that even silent, empty space isn’t far enough away to escape the pain of life.

We are who we are no matter where we go and must make a conscious choice to truly live instead of merely existing.

By deciding not to quit she makes Kowalski’s death as meaningful as her daughter’s death was apparently meaningless.

I thought about how people can be ready to die for different reasons, some because they are prepared to move on; others because they’re ready to give up. “I’m not quitting,” says Stone, determined to make a better story of her life regardless of how much time she has left.

The film features various images and references to religious icons like Jesus, Buddha, and even the Ganges–the most sacred river to Hindus. We are all of us, despite our religious beliefs and varied cultures, human. Life is precious across all cultural barriers, and there is a transcendent ideal larger than all of us: Love is the ultimate rescue mission.

She reaches the Chinese space station for the painful process of reentry or rebirth in this case. Surrounded by purifying fire, she plunges into baptismal waters of a new life, regenerated. When at last she reaches the shore and clutches earth, Stone is grounded, no longer defying gravity or hope as she looks to the sky and for the first time in her saga marvels at her place in the universe.

What did you think of Gravity?

By Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.