Writer Philip Jose Farmer has said that he sees religion as “Homo sapiens’ conscious expression of the instinctive drive for survival.” He goes on to clarify that the brain rationalizes a future or otherworldly existence, thus making religion the earliest form of science fiction.
In director Alfonso Cueron’s Gravity, after a series of mishaps two astronauts are left adrift, tethered to each other in space. One is a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. Clearly identified as the “brains” of the team, a bit unapproachable and preoccupied with getting the job done, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is lost in space in more ways than the obvious.
She makes it evident that she does not believe in God.
Matt Kowalski, on the other hand, is like a big kid, a frontiersman enamored by the vastness of creation. He’s the kind of guy who marvels at telling stories, even if it’s old news to the Mission Control crew. Played by George Clooney with braggadocio and confidence, you get the impression he enjoys life while Stone is just putting in time on Earth.
But at its core, Gravity explores the complexities similar to both religion and science fiction. Both rely on tests of faith. Out amongst the stars, there’s an element of faith that the equipment has been inspected and will function. But the onslaught of space debris that tears apart the space station is chaos personified, and in the face of the unknown, neither math nor morals can save you. That’s the domain of God!
One of the great attributes of science fiction is that it can relocate any tale to an unorthodox setting and make its point. Gravity in essence is about discovery, and it takes that discovery from “the inner mind, to the outer limits.”
To make that point, I’m going to have to discuss specific elements from the movie, including the ending – so if you haven’t seen it and believe something I say might ruin your enjoyment, then quit reading!
Once their oxygen is depleted, it becomes a matter of one of them, and only one, getting back to the planet. This idea of personal sacrifice is religious, same as the idea of resurrection. Cut off from all communications, Ryan finds herself isolated, much like Jesus in the wilderness. She hears a broadcast from a man whose dog is howling and whose son is crying, reminiscent of the birth of Christ. And as with most spiritual journeys, self doubts lull her toward a meaningless death that requires of “leap of faith” for salvation to occur.
If you doubt that Gravity has any religious overtones, follow the re-entry as the capsule plummets to Earth. According to Darwin, life came from the sea; shaky at first, our predecessors stood on two legs to become human. In some Christian circles baptism requires submersion in water to signify a cleansing of sin. What sin? The original sin of disobedience to God! As Ryan Stone pulls herself ashore, her first words are the last lines of dialogue heard in the movie: “Thank you.”
Who is she thanking? Kowalski for his sacrifice, which has already been established as a selfless act rooted in religious doctrine?
Ryan has faced her faults and fears, and in the process she’s discovered God. It’s plainly there!
So by not accepting the religious element in Gravity, there’s too many unexplained things that don’t make a lick of sense. The Russians blow up a satellite, threatening every country on Earth when it would’ve fallen to Earth anyhow and burned up in the atmosphere?
Godless people have very little concern for human life. The Chinese just seem to duck all responsibility, abandoning their unscathed station.
Both science and religion are concerned with finding “the meaning of life.” Are Ryan’s choices made by random chance, or is divine intervention at work, leading her on the path of righteousness?
A great movie inspires debate on matters other than makeup and 3D effects. And I think Gravity is a great science fiction movie. So what do you think? Whenever a crisis occurs, whether it be a cruise ship disaster, a plane crash or hostage situation, survivors offer up, “Thank you!” It could be for their rescuers or medical services, and it should be! But it’s never for George Clooney!