This weekend a friend and I watched a DVD of a film I’d not seen before, and one I’d seen years ago and wanted to see again. First one, ‘Gravity’ from 2013: I’d heard about the immersive power of this film and would have liked to have seen it in an IMAX cinema, to get a better handle on the terrifying scale of space a few hundred miles above earth’s surface.
On one level it’s the thrilling tale of how someone (Dr Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock) cut catastrophically adrift in the most hostile environment known to man, conspires (spoiler alert) – with help from the god-like wisdom and calm of George Clooney character Matt Kowalsky , to eventually find her way back down to earth. Alongside this survival adventure runs an emotional narrative of her inner journey toward a place of peace regarding her young daughter’s tragic death, and willingness to embrace life afresh.
I’ve come across some quibbles regarding the veracity of the physics on display. And I have quibbles of my own about the likelihood of engaging in such soul searching in the face of a distinct likelihood of imminent death. Bullock’s character is also impressively adept at working out what buttons to press and levers to turn on spaceships – especially to someone like me who struggles to fix a bike puncture. But despite credulity being a little stretched, it’s a compelling story, and (guess what) quite rich with spiritual resonances.
Veteran astronaut Kowalsky is almost preternaturally calm and reassuring, with moments of humour. “You’ve gotta learn to let go” he says, when she insists on attempting to rescue him once he’s detached himself from her – sacrificing his own life to save hers. The Christ echo is amplified in a later scene where in her imagination he ‘reappears’ in the capsule she’s lodged in, to revive her flagging resolve to return to earth and face the future afresh.
But it’s wider resonances tied up in gravity, space exploration and a return to earth that intrigue me most. The human instinct to push boundaries and ‘boldly go’ has, beside irritating the split infinitive police, inspired a sense of glory in our humanity and praise for such celebrations as Professor Brian Cox TV series like ‘Wonders of the Universe’. For some this adulation has been pitted against what are viewed as the confining, blinding ‘dogmas’ of religion. I would challenge such a facile comparison. In ‘Gravity’ I discern a more varied seam of spiritual metaphor. Stone’s return, literally a crucible-like experience as her capsule hurtles through the metal-melting atmosphere of planet earth, is a return home from a hostile life-threatening environment, to a rich and nurturing one, where she can breathe freely and feel the sand between her toes. Its physicality mirrors spiritual rebirth as expressed in the New Testament, for instance in the parable of the prodigal son or the rich ‘new creation’ imagery in the epistles and Revelation. Just today I enjoyed the wonderful earthiness of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in the last chapter of John’s gospel, where he invites them to a breakfast of bread and broiled fish.
God calls me ‘home’ to the bounty of eternal life (quality not just duration); there’s a ‘gravity’ about his tug on our hearts and souls. And a choice involved in whether to yield to it…
The other film we watched that I had seen before was ‘Donnie Darko’. I won’t probe the weird wonderfulness of that one right now, except to leave you with a favourite scene, the school corridor sweep and magical dance moment set to Tears for Fears euphoric Head over Heels . Heady stuff.