If you’ve seen Alfonso Cuarón’s epic space film Gravity you have, no doubt, reflected on its technical marvel. When I viewed the film in its IMAX and 3-D glory, I felt a palpable sense of dread and anxiety as I watched the first twenty minutes, waiting for the disaster to unfold. Like others in the audience, I was caught up in the special effects and the sense that I was seeing a real view from space. This is the magic of cinema.
As of November 1, 2013, the film has surpassed $209 million in box office sales in no small part due to its appeal to Hollywood audiences who desire that accustomed mix of special effects, action, and taunt drama. As we see in his other films, especially Children of Men (2006), Cuarón is gifted at combining compelling storytelling with cutting-edge special effects. But it’s the storytelling that interests me the most, mainly because I’ve had the sense that so many people who have raved about Gravity have focused on the special effects and have missed out on some of the deeper and existential thrills of the film.
Cuarón is no stranger to highlighting the deeper side of our existence. In Y Tu Mamá También (2001) he explored the fascinating connections of sexuality and Mexican state politics; in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) he suggested the darker and more serious side of the Potter franchise; and in Children of Men he took us on a dystopian thrill ride and asked us to consider the existential and political sides of immigration, religion, and fertility. When this last film appeared on DVD, Cuarón offered a commentary by Slavoj Žižek—whom many consider to be the most influential of living social theorists.
Žižek’s analysis of Children of Men, like the film itself, is insightful in the ways that it forces us to reflect on our most basic issues of life. Žižek is among a number of contemporary social theorists and philosophers who have influenced Cuarón’s unique vision of film. Like Children of Men, Gravity provides numerous opportunities for us to use film to focus on what philosophers often write about in books on existentialism and nihilism. The good news for us is that we don’t have to be an expert on Heidegger, Kierkegaard, or Nietzsche in order to connect with the many underlying themes of Gravity.
Here, then, are five of the deeper sides of Gravity.
This article was first posted on November 9, 2013