Gravity 3D: Experiencing the Void

Gravity is what Avatar promised to be: the film that transforms how directors use 3D to tell stories. Avatar‘s Smurf-Gully storyline was beautiful to behold, but it used (masterful) 3D technology exactly like its predecessors: a glossy finish to a mediocre film.

I’m not enamored with 3D, so trust me when I say that 3D is the only way to watch Gravity. Not because it’s a spectacle (though it is), but because director Alfonso Cuarón uses 3D to tell his story. Without 3D, it’s just interesting. With it, you’re immersed in the hollow, soundless, soulless, abyss of space. The first explosion evoked the most terrifying existential horror I’ve ever experienced. I entered the microcosm of Dr. Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) fear. I, in all my human fragility, joined her untethered careen away from human life.

It’s a deep fear many of us share: what keeps me tethered to this world? What keeps me from floating away? What binds me to the meaning that makes life worth living?

A friend described the initial explosion as “the fall.” The space shuttle explodes in a hailstorm of debris. Astronauts spin out of reach. Radio silence fills the void. Ryan stone is alone. Gravity makes us feel what happened to mankind after the fall.

Our world fractured. We spun out of God’s presence. We came unhitched from one another, and even ourselves. Silence follows the wreckage. Loneliness. One question remains: can I ever be tethered back to everything that matters?

As Ryan floats through the void we’re presented with a way of understanding life: space. Human life on Earth is an accident. In reality, we’re orbiting around the sun, waiting for everything to end. There is no meaning to life, because life is accidental. If we’re honest, we’ll join Ryan’s hopeless, unchosen spin away from everything we live for: love, family, God, joy, beauty, and experience.

As the film unfolds, (prepare for spoilers), Ryan asks if life have meaning. Was her daughter’s tragic death pointless? A rambling accident? Is she in space by purely accidental circumstances? In the film’s darkest moment, she hears a voice over a radio. Is it Houston? Hope? No. It’s a farmer on earth. He doesn’t speak English, heightening her sense of alienation, loneliness and separation. Language is a void. Dogs bark and Ryan, accepting her animality, joins in the baying. The accidental life is not worth living, so she decides to die. But Gravitydoes not leave Ryan lost in space.Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) arrives in a vision to stop her suicide.

He represents a different way of understanding life: gravity. We can only live when we’re tethered to meaning. Tethered to relationships, to love, to God. We need the gravity of human meaning to keep us from floating into the abyss. Dr. Stone is continually on the brink of floating away, but she is (almost miraculously) tethered, dragged, and pulled back to safety every time. Matt is the great tetherer. He is earthy, if not bawdy. He is Gravity incarnate. As Ryan’s air runs out, he begins to ask questions about her life on earth. As a viewer it’s infuriating, why waste her oxygen talking about Illinois? But Matt knows better. Illinois matters more than air. Without Illinois, without love and relationship, Ryan is already dead. Matt tethers her to all the minor human details that make her life life.

Ryan undergoes multiple rebirths as she nears earth’s gravity. Matt’s catchphrases latch her to reality; by them she makes it to the last escape pod. As she spins to earth, burning up, we see the earth’s gravity take hold of the pod, stop its spin, and straighten it so that its heat panel protects her from the fiery atmosphere.

For Ryan the nothingness of space loses to a weightier reality: gravity. She lands on earth, undergoes a a baptism, and, a shedding of her old way of thinking (the space suit), she swims to life. Her atrophied limbs struggle to hold her, but it’s a glorious struggle for meaning.

Gravity invades our imagination. Cuarón offers us an unique way to answer life’s most important questions: experience. Are you spinning in the void or tethered to earth? Gravity or space? It’s not hard to guess which he prefers.

Gravity forces us to face the emptiness we experience in life. It begs the question: did the void in our souls develop because we’re actually alone? Or because we lost what makes us whole? Gravity gives us the sense of falling from a great height. Humanity is, to quote Francis Schaeffer, a glorious ruin. All the shattered pieces of our once glorious selves points to a profound need for gravity, the kind of gravity that pulls us back together, just like Ryan Stone.

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