My apologies in advance for what is a kind of rambly and incomplete collection of ideas. I'm just wanting to discuss some thoughts I'm having on this movie, and figured that those of you who have seen the movie might also have some thoughts.
Foxylocksley dragged me to see Gravity last night, and I'm quite glad he did. Although 3D movies generally leave me feeling nauseous at some point, it was the kind of movie I am willing to brave some discomfort to experience. It is also the kind of movie that I spend the next few days trying to unpack, because it's the kind of movie that is quite obviously about something much bigger than the plot.
Here are a few things I have been pondering, and would love your thoughts on what they mean:
Birth and evolution images:
There were two particularly moments that felt almost "hit you over the head" overtly metaphorical. The first was when Dr. Stone (Sandy) gets into the first space station and strips off her space suit. The image of her hanging in the air, with the lights and tubes behind her is strongly suggestive of a fetus in utero.
The second is at the end, as she is emerging from the lake, it felt to me to be a strong allusion to an emergence from the "primordial ooze" and taking first steps on land.
Is it feminist?:
So, what do I do with these?
One of my first questions upon watching a movie with a female lead is "is this feminist?" (or at least, is this a positive and empowering portrayal?) Most of the time the answer is, unfortunately, "not really." However, this time I'm left with a..."maybe." I didn't feel like she was "strong despite" or "smart despite" being a woman. I didn't feel like she was sexualized (nor did I feel like her sexuality was intentionally downplayed as happens sometimes with "smart" female characters). There was the moment she strips off her space suit and arches her back which could be seen as "sexual" but it was also a moment of her just reveling in what felt good for her—which I felt potentially tied into the fetal/birth image: she ceases to be someone who is paralyzed by fear and being rescued by George Clooney and becomes someone who saves herself. Obviously it cannot pass the Bechdel test, since there is no other female character. Also, since her strength emerges when she is alone, it is possible that the ultimate message is that women can be strong, if all the men who could take care of them are gone. I'm still working on this one...
One of the other movie characters who I consider somewhat feminist (or feminist positive? I always stop short before full-on declaring any movie portrayal of a woman as "feminist") is Ripley from the Alien movies. She also has a tragic "mother" relationship (although hers serves to define her relationship to others, rather than her relationship to herself); she is also portrayed in a way where here sexuality is neither played up or downplayed. However, while the movie doesn't frame her competence and strength as "despite" being a woman, the other characters often do.
Space vs. humanity
Movies set in space often play into a certain anxiety of technology: technology fails, technology goes "bad" (androids in Alien/s), etc. In Gravity the constant threat surrounding technology, paired with the "organic" images (childbirth, evolution) seems to make for a particularly stark relationship.