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Archive for November, 2013

Lost In Space

There is so much to recommend ‘Gravity’. I saw it at an Imax in 3D, so the effects were at their most awe-inspiring. This is probably the nearest us mortals are ever going to get to being in space. And it’s terrifying up there.

I loved that most of the film is just about one character, a close study on one face, one point of view.

And that point of view is a woman’s. Millions of men will go and see this film because it’s exciting and about space and has amazing effects, and will experience an entire film from the perspective of a woman. Women sit in cinemas and view the world over and over again through the eyes of men, because men won’t go and see a ‘woman’s film’. When it has a female lead, it’s a ‘woman’s film’. When it has a male lead, it’s just a film. ‘Gravity’, as ‘Alien’ before it, is just a film.

‘Gravity’ is almost unbearably tense. For all that humans are capable of going into and living and working in space, we are still utterly vulnerable up there, weak and tiny organisms in the void. The science may be a bit wonky, but the terror when something goes wrong feels pretty authentic.

I don’t want to sound too critical of a film that is so patently and unashamedly an action movie. The plotting is formulaic, but it never promised to be otherwise. And were it an action film set on earth (motor vehicles rather than spacecraft, Speed not Gravity) I wouldn’t expect it to convey a deeper life message, to make a profound investigation of mortality. I was moved by the sight of Sandra Bullock’s character floating, embryo-like, in zero gravity, terrified and grieving. I was fascinated by the intriguing, beautiful and genuinely poignant spectacle of her tears falling away from her eyes, rather than being pulled down her cheeks by gravity.

But I couldn’t help wishing for an experience that wasn’t so resolutely upbeat. Over a background of rising strings, Sandra Bullock tilts her plucky American chin at fate and gets herself home to earth. Despite the tension, the ending is never seriously in doubt. Humanity (American humanity) will triumph.

At the moment when she fears that all is lost, she talks to herself, or to the oblivious Chinese control centre on Earth, and says that she knows she’s going to die, that we all know we’re going to die, but in this situation she gets to know when. And she’s still scared.

That to me was fascinating, and the opportunity missed. How must it be to approach death alone? We all die alone, and some of us approach death without others around us. But to die in space, cut off from the control centre on earth, that isolation is infinite. What must that be like, to approach death like that? And what would it be like to actually die in heaven? The idea that heaven is ‘up there’ is deep in our collective unconscious, atheist or believer. A rational, scientist finds herself dying in the very place that has been the repository of human souls ever since humans started telling each other stories. Would an atheist’s stance be shaken? Would a believer’s faith be shaken? And as the sun rises over the curve of the earth, the most beautiful sight only ever experienced by a tiny handful of humans, and knowing you would never experience another sunrise, or sunset, or human voice, or human touch, what must that feel like?

That’s another film, a different film. Or, more likely, a short story…

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