Gravity (Religion at the Movies)


I think I can say safely without a spoiler alert that religion and gender float across the entire surface of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. I wasn’t expecting to see so much of Sandra Bullock and the sadly flat plot line surrounding her. As for religion, it is is marked by icons, iconic geographic places and the idea of prayer all viewed from and framed by the illusion of deep space. “Thank you.” You can read here Richard Brody’s eviscerating critique of Gravity as well as the equally pointed critique of the genre of what he calls “liberal cinema” as a form of film that lends itself to conventional morality at the expense of the kinds of art and fantasy that don’t lend itself to constructive politics. What I liked most about the movie is what I like least about it, namely that it was too “watchable.” Cold and warm, sometimes a movie shouldn’t try to split the difference. Black, blue, white, and green, the movie is fantastic to look at, but the soundtrack is awful. The sounds is supposed to move you towards moral conclusion and redemptive purpose. I’m not trying to mean, but the more I’m going to think about it, Gravity would have been a much better movie if all the astronauts had died out there at the border between planet earth and the stars beyond. But who would pay to see that?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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10 Responses to Gravity (Religion at the Movies)

  1. Gail says:

    I’ve talked to my kids about my sense that this is the absolutely thinnest “plot” (is there a plot?) in a Hollywood blockbuster. Some obscure Resnais might win the general contest for thinnest plot, but for a film made for IMAX I have never seen a flick in which the characters matter so little. What back story they have is, actually, irrelevant to what happens. I know you hate the concept, but since I know Cuaron reads this stuff, I have to say that “bare life” came to mind quite a bit. The film is more Agamben’s bare life than Butler’s critique of it in Frames of War as being too, um, disembodied and dislocated. HA! This film ups the ante and gets us glued on evanescence.

    • zjb says:

      yep, read the Brody critique of liberal cinema. i think you’d like it Gail. i wish, wish, wish there was more bare life and evanescenece to the film, to really thin it out.

    • Semigeekly says:

      For me, the simplistic plot and strong visual narrative allowed for an accessible metaphorical depth. If the film is not primarily about the story of these particular characters, I’m not sure they need much substance past that necessary to embody the ideas they’re representing. I left the theatre reflecting on the story as a portrait of the struggle of life on the cosmic scale. I’m likely giving Cuarón more credit than his actual intention is due, but there are some interesting ideas to be mined there. You can give my most recent post a look if that rabbit seems worth chasing (

  2. Gail says:

    If there were more bareness to the bare life then we’d get politics slapped in our face and that would get in the way of being glued to evanescence. The entire film is diffusion.

    • donovanschaefer says:

      Diffusion, exactly–but a diffusion that rarefies the air around bodies and then forces them to restart themselves, to surge forwards. Just as a drowning body thrashes and a body in solitary confinement pounds on walls, Cuaron shows us bodies in space that are compelled to move toward things, a compulsion amplified by the lack of oxygen around them. The title plays with the ambiguity in “heavenly bodies”–the web of invisible forces that draw things to one another.

      And Zeke, you’re wrong about the soundtrack. Maybe it’s a generational thing?

      • zjb says:

        yes, yes, and yes. except that in space there’s no “air around bodies,” which makes the thrashing corporeal affect all the more intense. as for the soundtrack, a little Schoenberg would have been nice.

      • donovanschaefer says:

        Zeke, I rewatched _2001_ yesterday as part of writing my post on this. Interesting counterpoint on sound. Does Kubrick want to make the case that the outer reaches of space have some sort of sustained human resonance by setting it against a melodic soundtrack, and AC want to suggest that space is always going to be physically and phenomenologically hostile to us by using abiotic music?

  3. Gail says:

    Donovan, I guess don’t think AC is showing us bodies “compelled to move toward things” but bodies unable to control movement, bodies as fragile and risk-laden in movement as they are in breathing. Clooney’s early screech to Bullock to “unhook, unhook!” frames the entire film. Volition is reduced to the barest stratum: what effort aims at survival? Barest life. Thinnest effort: just one more breath. Just one hand grab. Just one more breath. Repeat.

    • donovanschaefer says:

      Right, I guess I’m using compulsion in a sort of technical sense, as a force that charts where bodies go prior to consciousness or volition. I think that the drive to return to earth and the invisible pull of gravity are both part of that complex field of attachments AC is trying to map. (I’ll have a post on this up tomorrow.) And yes, I could not agree more that hooking/unhooking is the hermeneutic key to the film.

  4. dmfant says:

    interesting on the craft side to think about the relationships between robots, choreography, and human actors:

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