Even though I love Hindi films like anything, once a while I make it a point to watch an English film. It is not that I do not like them, but that I am not very adept at understanding them. I had a slight hesitation in my mind when I heard so much about Gravity that it is such an exhilarating experience. I do not like 3D much, so I watched Gravity in 2D. Even in 2D, I loved it. More than the science-fiction part which is heart stopping, I was simply fascinated by the spiritual undertones in the film, particularly Buddhism.
Gravity is a beautiful story of learning to let go of your past, of accepting grief, of going back home and of standing up again on your feet. The film’s message is to move on with grief in life. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) used to work in a hospital in Illinois. One day, she got a call that her daughter hit her head and she died. After that, she said all she did was going to the hospital and ‘driving and driving’. She is still not able to accept her loss and is wandering all over. The outer space where she gets stuck is a perfect metaphor for her ‘driving’ life and refers to her wandering soul. Gravity uses the notion of outer space to impart some deep inner lessons to us. It is shown when the debris (death of her daughter?) hits their shuttle, she is the one who gets lost, and not Matt Kowalski who is in control, just like she is lost in her real life. At one point later, she even remarks, ‘I hate space’, referring to her current wandering state. She needs to go home and for that she has to fight. She will face numerous difficulties (such as lack of oxygen) but she is the one who has to believe in her that she can do it (else oxygen will burn faster). Matt is her guide, counselor, mentor, motivator, who will teach and inspire her to go back. At one of the film’s most moving movements, when Ryan’s legs gets entangled in the shuttle, but Matt who has a higher momentum, tells Ryan that she will have to let him go. She will have to detach him. And instantly at that moment, he removes a physical attachment from the belt. I found it a very profound moment referring to death. The more attachments you have in life, the more it will stop you from going to peace. The more attached you are to people, the more you risk the chance of hurting them as well in the process. Learn to let go of these attachments,which causes this grief. You are not going to carry them with you. Death is a reality. Accept it. Embrace it with your open arms. The more you resist, the more you will get hurt. That is why Matt lets go of himself smoothly. Ryan has to learn this. Matt in his subtle ways teaches Ryan the importance of fighting back. At one point he says to her, “I could get used to silence here”. The silence refers to his ability to accept pain silently. At another point, he says, “What do you miss down there in Lake Zurich in Illinois? Somebody down there, looking up and thinking about you?” Again, referring that Ryan needs to fight back for the people who love her on earth. She cannot just be stuck in a limbo. Gravity is essentially the spiritual journey of Ryan to her home.
I found numerous other references to spiritualism. At one point, Matt says to Ryan that the view is spectacular as the sun just rose over the Ganges. Ganges, one of the most sacred rivers in the world, in which people come and wash their sins and ask for forgiveness to start a life afresh. It is the Ganges in which the ashes of dead people are immersed to send them to heaven.
At another deeply spiritual moment in the film, when she gets back to the international space shuttle, she takes off her space suit and relaxes. In that terrific moment, her body shapes like a new baby in a mother’s womb. Her body rolled into a baby in a womb symbolizing that she has got a new lease of life and this is her rebirth. She has come overcome that challenge and she has to start afresh and she has to make use of this moment to go home.
At another point in the movie, Ryan, when she is sitting in the international space shuttle, she is crying. In another fascinating moment of cinematic excellence, her tear drop is shown and there is a face in the tear drop, that of her daughter’s. She has so much grief in her that her tears have her daughter’s face and the only way she can overcome is when she lets them out. And she does. Earlier, when they inspect the damaged space ship, a red doll with messed up hair (which later she uses to describe her daughter) is seen to be going out of the space shuttle. That doll was her daughter. She has to move on and let her daughter go into another world. Eventually, when she understands this, she asks Matt (who is dead) to say 'hi' to her daughter and tell her that she is her angel because now both Matt and her daughter are in another world.
In a scene, Ryan manages to establish a contact with one man in China. He is not able to understand what she is saying. But he has a puppy and a baby. She starts making the same barking sound as the puppy. I am not particularly sure what it meant but I think it was comforting her to speak to someone. She could not speak to the Chinese guy but the puppy made some noises which she was familiar to and this gave her peace and courage. Maybe referring to the support that one needs to come out of the depression? Also, when the Chinese guy starts singing the lullaby, she feels calmed. This was again referring to the new birth that she has now got, and the lullaby comforts her because she is now a baby.
While talking to the Chinese guy, she had said that she is lonely and no one is going to pray for her. No one taught her how to pray. No one is going to mourn for her. And in one of the most famous paradoxes of nature, we see that there is a picture of Jesus Christ in the space shuttle. Does that mean that we need to believe in a higher entity to give us some faith? Who is God? Is it some kind of placebo that gives us motivation? Then, why do we see a God’s picture in the space shuttle? Not only the international space station, even the Chinese space ship had a statue of a laughing Buddha. Why is this phenomenon of God a universal thing? Is it this ‘gravity’ that ties us from falling part? I remember tweeting a picture when Sunita Williams had a conversation from space last year. This is that picture. Isn't it a paradox that scientists – some of the most rational people – believe in something totally irrational? Gravity gives us no answers but only alludes that maybe we all require a gravitational force to keep us from falling apart and that could be God.
Jesus Christ in the Space Shuttle
In one of the film’s other poignant moments, when Ryan lands, she crashes in the sea. I think again, it referred to something related to despair. Probably, it meant that re-entry to your normal position is not going to be easy. You will crash and go further down in the abyss, surrounded by evil but you have to fight it off again and come up. Just like the frog that was shown. It was very symbolic that director Alfonso Curon uses a frog and not some fish. Frogs are amphibians, capable of living on both land and water. Similarly, humans have to face both happiness (the land) and the sadness (the water) in their lives and Ryan has to crawl her way up to the land. Finally, Ryan lands back to the shore. She manages to escape not only the physical tragedy of the space shuttle but the emotional turmoil of her grief. When she tries to get up, the ‘gravity’ again tries to pull her back but this time she stands firm. She has learnt her lesson and that is why there is a smile on her face. The sun has risen again. She has been reborn and reached home after ‘one hell of a ride’.
Gravity to me was a spiritual lesson. It is breath taking, wonderful and makes your heart stop, not only by its effects but also by its sublime messages. It will make you ‘fall’ into it. It is a splendid film. Watch it.
And yes, I have not talked about the special effects which are simply spectacular. The music is excellent. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography gets brilliant with every film. Terrence Mallick’s Tree of Life had similar space themes, which was again beautifully portrayed by Emmanuel Lubezki. Genius.
There are still some things that I am still not sure of what exactly they mean. When Ryan says, “I am used to things falling on the hospital floor”. At another instance, they show the Chinese space shuttle as a similar shape of an astronaut. I am still thinking what she meant by this.
As always, some fascinating trivia. At one point, Shareef is singing the song – “Mera joota hai japani”. Not only is then only a Ganges connection, but our very own Bollywood connection. In another funny detail, the Chinese space shuttle had green herbs and ping-pong rackets. I chuckled when I saw this. Funny.
Dialogue of the Day:
"No harm, no foul."
- Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity