Without any effort, we remain tethered to the Earth. Through, what very quickly after birth becomes an automated body function, we take in breath. In many respects, we live without really trying very hard to do so. As we age, two seemingly unrelated phenomena occur: we accumulate more and more baggage/emotional dross and we become inured to the marvels offered by just being alive. Gravity locates its characters in a setting that strips away the essentials that we take for granted every day in order to expose the pulsating, primal drives that often get buried beneath a numbing sense of apathy.
The basic premise of the film is that Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first mission in space, and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), must fight to survive after the debris from a destroyed satellite decimates their shuttle and sets them adrift. What viewers may not understand from the marketing materials that have been releases is that this is not a “floating around in space” movie. Once it gets going, Gravity is a non-stop, heart-pounding thriller.
However, the real crux of the film is Kowalski and Stone’s vastly divergent responses to, not so much the crisis, but life. Stone is mourning, withdrawn, and disconnected, all business and oblivious to the purity of the wonder that is surrounding her. She is weightless with the expanse of space as her playground and the Earth a glowing globe beneath her, and yet, at the film’s open, the entirety of her being is focused on fighting intermittent nausea and the tool right in front of her. She is oblivious the the singular miracle of her circumstances. Whereas Kowalski is engaged with – and savoring – every moment of freedom that the jet pack the engineers are having him test affords him.
The pair function as archetypes as much as characters. They symbolize oppositional forces: yin and yang, the natural expansion and contraction of the universe, and spiritually, she stands in for a life-providing mother Earth and he a watchful, guiding, loving, though slightly irreverent, Father Deity. Kowalski is vital and life-affirming, Stone depleted and stricken by a devastating loss that she has been unable to move on from. The casting plays directly into audience expectations. We buy Clooney as the charming, devil-may-care astronaut and Bullock as the introverted, earthy and relatable scientist.