Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” in Context to Literature and Science

There’s nothing more that says sci-fi than a film specifically set in space, as seen in Alfonso Cuaron’s newest released hit, “Gravity.” For those that are not familiar with the film, “Gravity” is a film mainly based around two core characters, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullocks) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who are conducting a space expedition when a satellite debris damages their shuttle, leaving them stranded in space. I found this movie to be particularly interesting for students in the science literature group due to the way this film approaches the natural beauty of space, the startling magnitude of the universe as compared to Earth, and the subject of God. The movie projects many awe-inspiring shots of space and the shots of Earth multiple times throughout the day, the shots seen through the eyes of these astronauts that make our planet seem so insignificant in terms of the scale of the universe.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the film I found was perhaps Cuaron’s message for the audience regarding the direction of our future. During a part of the movie when Kowalski looks over Earth after the debris has destroyed much of the Earth’s satellites, he notes, “Half of north America just lost their Facebook.” Although Cuaron may have partially intended this as a joke, part of him also dedicated this line in the script to demean the useless direction that our society has progressed towards. Back then when sci-fi authors wrote about robots, space travel, time travel, and extremely advanced technological progress, many of them would have assumed that by the 21st century we would have already been progressing towards some notable and worthy technological progress or further research towards better understanding the universe. An example, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (this book may have over-stressed the expectations of technological progression though), was based in 1992 and during that time, society already faced extreme technological strides. Thus Cuaron writes this joke sort of to ridicule our society in the sense that people are more focused on things such as social media platforms, as compared to focusing their energy towards more efficient studies and rewarding activities. While Kowalski and Dr. Stone were isolated in space, most Americans were probably unaware and stressed only about minute worries, such as the fact that their television and Internet connection were defective.

Another topic I found to be particularly intriguing was the role of faith in the film. Throughout our class, we often noted the divide between science, technology, and religion. Especially, through many of the poems we have read in class written by famous Romantics, we realize that they almost deem nature and God as almost synonymous. An example is in “Frost at Midnight” when Coleridge enjoys the beauty of nature and notes God, “who from eternity doth teach Himself in all, and all things in himself. Great Universal Teacher!” So it seems that through many of the poems that we have read regarding the sublime and beauty of nature, the author makes some reference to God. However, in this sci-fi movie when Dr. Stone is fearing the brink of death, she laments, “No one will pray for my soul. I’ve never prayed. No one has taught me how.” It isn’t until the end when she back on Earth that she grabs a handful of sand and murmur’s “Thank you.” Usually in sci-fi books and movies, a conflicting opinion regarding religion persists. Interestingly, this movie contrasts with its counterparts of the same genre in that the main character, who never practiced faith, recognized and thanked God for bringing her out of danger in space. In a way, this movie makes unconventional progress not only in the way that it combines science and religion, but also combines both the technological aspects of space travel and the beautiful sublime of nature, seen through the astronaut’s perspective of Earth as compared to the cold, dim space that surrounded them.

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I believe “Gravity” to be worthy of further consideration by the science-literature group due to the many topics that it raises. The director, Cuaron, makes us question if the progression of society is as expected. Perhaps these sci-fi authors overextended their imaginations when they expected Earth to be completely different in the future, or in the 2000s. Their books on androids and Big Brother, seem to be completely different than the society where people focus so much on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The daily worries that we face and our daily routines seems so insignificant to the strides that Kowalski and Dr. Stone are making in space research. This film makes the audience view progress through a bigger picture, through the astronaut’s perspective of Earth from the vast space of the universe. “Gravity” is deserving not only because of the beautiful sceneries that it depicts, but also the many topics that it raises including technological emphasis of our society and the role of religion. If you have seen this movie, what other subjects and interesting topics have piqued your interests? What technological subjects of this story do you believe relates to the subjects we bring up in our class?

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4 Responses to Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” in Context to Literature and Science

  1. I’m extremely excited to see this film finally on Thursday, and I’m really interested in technology as an area of exploration in science fiction. Your description of the film is making me think of “The Time Machine”–perhaps this is Cuaron’s way of engaging with the world from an outsider perspective. Whereas the Time Traveller moves back and forth in time to remote and alien landscapes, these characters are remote in geography, only. They exist in the same universe from which they came, and yet their removal from society and their perspective overlooking Earth lends itself to commentaries on the small pettiness of humanity. “Gravity” seems to exist within the paradigm of the miraculous common. As you’ve said, rather than exploring some unfathomable future inconsistent with what the future really would look like, as previous writers have done, this film chooses to present the world we live in, though from a distance. I’d be interested to see what the “Do Androids Dream” of our time will be–the work that dares to project onto the future, boldly risking inaccuracy in a world that is evolving with such speed.

  2. I absolutely loved this movie (love Alfonso Cuaron in general–I’ve thought about suggesting P.D. James’s Children of Men as a book for the end of this class).There were a ton of articles that came out critiquing the accuracy of the science portrayed in Gravity — particularly of one pivotal moment in the movie which I can say even sitting in the theater I myself questioned.
    But what ended up coming out of these critiques is what is now my favorite discussion of the relationship between science and fiction — even in a movie that is not, perhaps, exactly science fiction. The discussion comes from a post on facebook by Neil deGrasse Tyson, found here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/on-the-critique-of-science-in-film/10151673927570869
    In it he talks about how literature/media/movies “earn” the right to be critiqued on the level of scientific accuracy. The closing line of his post is, I think, particularly salient to the types of discussions we’ve been having in class about this relationship. He chooses to think of his critiques as “a celebration of artists attempting to embrace all the forces of nature that surround us.”

  3. Pingback: Science, Symbolism and Spirituality: A Gravity Movie Analysis (SPOILERS) | MovieMelt.com

  4. elephantusk says:

    DISCLAIMER: The following comment contains MILD spoiler alerts (nothing completely essential to the plotline, but some revelatory details about the general narrative nonetheless.)

    I finally saw the film, and loved it so much that I thought I would give my brief input. I’m also a huge Cuaron fan, so I probably would have at least appreciated it not matter how it turned out. But regardless, it turned out fantastically (especially the jaw-dropping shots of Earth from space.) But for some reason, what I left the theater thinking about was the way in which the film depicts other countries’ presence in space (namely China and Russia). After all, the Soviets are responsible for the storm of debris that eventually imperils the lives of Dr. Stone and Sowalski. And before the first wave hits, Sowalski makes a back-handed comment about how the debris was likely the aftermath of a Soviet spying expedition gone awry. This could very well be an innocent attempt at humor on Cuaron’s part, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

    And in the Chinese station, a statue of Buddha sits atop the screen she works from. While this is a very minute detail that probably holds no significance, it struck me as reductionist nonetheless.

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