Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gravity: a review and brief reflections on earthbound existence

(Numerous spoiler alerts.)

"Life is impossible in space."

So begins the critically-acclaimed and blockbusting new film Gravity - the most humble, human and hopeful sci-fi film I've ever seen.

How can a sci-fi flick be humble? This was no "to infinity and beyond" celebration of hubristic human intergalactic imperialism. This was an extended study in our inability to survive a mere few hundred kilometres above the surface of the only habitable piece of rock in the known universe, a precarious existence in orbit (i.e. perpetually falling back to earth and missing, which is what orbit is) threatened not by aliens, not by an absent God, not by international tensions and conflicts, but simply and depressingly by the unforeseen consequences of our shortcuts and fundamentally by the inability to deal with our own junk.

Even amidst death and destruction, the Earth itself was the star of the show, the jewel in space, the pale blue dot on which all human hopes depended. The sheer beauty of the planet was the backdrop against which the crises and tragedies of the tiny cast played out. Indeed, the last line from the one human who felt somewhat at home in space was an appreciation of the beauty of the earth, praising the wonder of sunlight reflected on the Ganges.

When it all comes crashing back to earth, we are thrown again onto the ground, finding in the mud between our fingers the basis of our only hope. The sense of being "home" at the end was overwhelming. We are creatures of the dirt. It is no coincidence that the only survivor is named Stone.

The film was redolent with images of gestation and birth, symbolism that even became a little heavy handed at one point as Stone floated in the fetal position trailing a breathing tube. Numerous rapid dangerous movements through narrow spaces and a final desperate breaking into and out of water completed the natal symbolism. Stone, having found in space the ultimate womb in which to hide her maternal grief, the ultimate car ride to delay the full recognition of her loss, is reborn back into the world of pain and loss, the world of gravity, the word of dirt and mud. Her final embrace of the mud was a return to roots, an acceptance of her existence on a finite planet, a rediscovery of being fundamentally a pedestrian rather than celestial species.

We are humans from the humus, 'adam from 'adamah, and our destiny is tied intimately to the planet that is our only home, a home threatened by our inability to deal with our own junk.