Gravity's ending holds a deeper meaning, says Alfonso Cuaron

Illustration for article titled emGravitys/em ending holds a deeper meaning, says Alfonso Cuaron

The rebirth metaphors were strong in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity. But did you catch all of the little hints the director slipped into the end? We spoke with the director about the deeper meaning behind his space movie's powerful ending. Here are his thoughts. Big time spoilers ahead:

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This movie is full of rebirth metaphors and analogies. [Sandra Bullock] getting into the fetal position with an umbilical cord floating behind her. How important were those images to you in this film. And why does space lend itself to rebirth? Why does it work so well in space?

Alfonso Cuarón: That was the point, for us, of the film. Adversities and the possibility of rebirth. And rebirth also metaphorical in the sense of gaining a new knowledge of ourselves. We have a character that is drifting metaphorical and literally, drifting towards the void. A victim of their own inertia. Getting farther and farther away from Earth where life and human connections are. And probably she was like that when she was on planet Earth, before leaving for the mission. It's a character who lives in her own bubble. And she has to shred that skin to start learning at the end. This is a character who we stick in the ground, again, and learns how to walk.

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Space already lends itself to all these metaphorical possibilities. I think rebirth in many ways is part of the journey for everybody, not only every human in Earth, but it's also the journey of great characters. Great characters in literature or in cinema they go through the stages of rebirth and of a new understanding.

And also while in the dirt, [that] was something that we wanted to have as a nurturing aspect of life. A character who has to reconnect to her inner nurturing side. The amazing side of life, that keeps us alive. Even if inside you feel you want to die, there's a bigger life impulse that keeps us alive.

So obviously the red rocks and mud that [Sandra] pulls herself up onto [after she lands] was an intentional nod to the rebirth idea?

Well yes, more literally there. She's in these murky waters almost like an amniotic fluid or a primordial soup. In which you see amphibians swimming. She crawls out of the water, not unlike early creatures in evolution. And then she goes on all fours. And after going on all fours she's a bit curved until she is completely erect. It was the evolution of life in one, quick shot.

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DISCUSSION

Gravity was the most frustrating film I've ever seen - bar none. Why? Precisely because of the metaphors Cuarón alludes to in the above interview. The first 40 minutes of the film were near-perfect: the best filmic representation of humans in space I've ever seen. Yes, for a few moments I really did feel like I was out there; I sensed the metaphysical aloneness, the physical and spiritual separation from our planet, the beautiful and terrible abyss of creation, the disorienting referential confusion; all of the factors that literate astronauts have tried to describe to the Earthbound public. I'm grateful to Cuarón for that experience (finally!).

But the last 50 minutes, wherein the film careens between ham-handed rebirth metaphors, blatant factual errors, and unbelievable deus ex machinas - umbilical jungles hanging off the ISS, Kowalski's unforgivably stupid "sacrifice" when he had zero-relative momentum to Stone, the let's-shove-the-bathos-in-your-face dream-return scene, the perils-of-Pauline sequence aboard the doomed Chinese space station, riding the Shenzou down to a safe landing amid the buckshot cloud of debris, and the recapitulated evolution-in-twenty-seconds salute to Kubrick and Clarke's starchild in 2001 (yes, I did catch that) - all of it was much too much too much. (Although - to be fair - I thought the "barking dogs and baby lullaby" scene was both brilliant and emotionally devastating.)

Beyond that, the metaphorical messages in the last half of Gravity were confused and contradictory. This is a film that seems to argue by event, action, and dialogue that humans do not belong in space and should stay home and work on "serious" species-related problems. By now that message has been so hackneyed by Hollywood repetition and false logic that it has become a comfortable and lulling cliche, even for those of us who disagree. Kowalski, the pioneer, dies. Stone, who "hates space", finds the will to live in hopes of getting home forever, and has her final epiphany not in space but on a beach. 2001 argued that the future of human evolution was out there among the stars and unknown intelligences; Gravity concludes that humanity's future will be witnessed by frogs and fish, right here where we belong - planet-bound. I've heard that before - ad nauseum. Give me something original.

You may argue that I'm reading too much into the film's plot and devices - but that's precisely what Cuarón is inviting us to do with his blatant rebirth metaphors. So - fair is fair. Cuarón made the same mistake many talented directors make: he thought he could write a script and story-arc that matched the brilliant vision he, as a director, had. He couldn't, because he's not an SF writer - and writing good SF is nearly the hardest thing any writer can do. Kubrick worked with Clarke; Scott worked with Dan O'Bannon on Alien, and with David Webb Peoples on Blade Runner - real writers with at least some credentials for SF. (Look at what Scott created when he didn't work with a real writer - Prometheus.)

I will see Gravity again. But I'm seriously considering leaving the theater after Stone reaches the ISS. That way I can "re-edit" Cuarón's script and story mistakes for myself, preserving the "reality" of the film, rejecting its anti-space thematic ending, and telling myself that Stone did, after all, reach safety, in a believable, rationally- and emotionally-arresting way.