If youve seen Alfonso Cuaróns 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 its the storytelling that interests me the most, mainly because Ive 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 Žižekwhom many consider to be the most influential of living social theorists. Žižeks 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 Cuaróns 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 dont 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.
Scott A. Lukas has taught anthropology and sociology Lake Tahoe Community College for sixteen years and in 2013 was Visiting Professor of American Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. He has been recognized with the McGraw-Hill Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology by the American Anthropological Association (2005), the California Hayward Award for Excellence in Education (2003), and a Sierra Arts Foundation Artist Grant Program Award in Literary–Professional (2009). In 2006, he was a nominee to the California Community College Board of Governors. He is the author/editor of The Immersive Worlds Handbook (2012), Theme Park (2008), The Themed Space: Locating Culture, Nature, and Self (2007), Fear, Cultural Anxiety, and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Films Remade, (co-edited with John Marmysz, 2009), Recent Developments in Criminological Theory (co-edited with Stuart Henry, 2009), and Strategies in Teaching Anthropology (2010). His book Theme Park was recently translated into Arabic. He appeared in the documentary The Nature of Existence and has provided interviews for To the Best of Our Knowledge, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, and Caravan (India).