“Gravity” and Other Films Sharing Themes of Solitude and Peril

By now everyone’s probably heard of the Sandra Bullock/George Clooney danger-in-space flick Gravity, but if you need more of a frame of reference, here’s the trailer:

Tom Long, Detroit News, calls it “‘Castaway’ in outer space.” Likewise, Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com, also compares it to Cast Awaybut also to such other films as 127 Hours and the new All Is Lost.

In those three films, respectively, Tom Hanks is marooned on an island, James Franco is a mountain climber trapped under a boulder, and Robert Redford is alone on a damaged yacht in a violent storm.

Previews of All is Lost, in addition, remind me of Life of Pi, in which a young shipwreck survivor, now in a small lifeboat, battles the elements alongside several wild animals.

All have relatively high consumer rankings. On IMDB, they get the following scores out of a possible 10 (and it’s rare that a movie gets a 9 or above).

  • All Is Lost is rated 7.2.
  • Cast Away and 127 Hours are both over 7.5.
  • Life of Pi 8.1.
  • Gravity‘s currently got an 8.7.

What do all these movies have in common?

Solitude amid life-threatening circumstances.

For some, solitude is scary no matter what the circumstances—so, all the more scary when you think you might die. For others, solitude is a desirable state. But if you think you’re going to die without the chance to communicate with anyone, what’s the likelihood it’s still desirable?

What’s the burning issue in each of these films?

Will he/she survive? Also, what keeps people going in the face of overwhelming peril, and why do some persevere while others give up?

As stated by Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com:

If anyone asks me what ‘Gravity’ is about, I’ll tell them it’s a tense adventure about a space mission gone wrong, but once they’ve seen and absorbed the movie, they’ll know the truth. The root word of ‘Gravity’ is ‘grave.’ That’s an adjective meaning weighty or glum or substantial, but it’s also a noun: the location where we’ll all end up in time. The film is about that moment when you suffered misfortune that seemed unendurable and believed all hope was lost and that you might as well curl up and die, and then you didn’t. Why did you decide to keep going? It’s is a mystery as great as any in physics or astronomy, and one we’ve all grappled with, and transcended.

What do we feel while waiting to find out what happens?

High anxiety.

In reviewing Captain Phillips, based on the true story of a U.S. ship hijacked by Somali pirates, Lee Jutton opines about the new wave of “the cinema of anxiety” (Just Press Play).

It feels as though as long as there have been movies, there has also been the debate about which is the more important category for a movie to fall into: art or entertainment? One can argue that the perfect film should be an equal mix of both. However, it seems as though there is a third category forcing its way [into] pop culture discussion: anxiety….The escapism provided by an outing to the theater has been marginalized by the kind of moviemaking that can barely be enjoyed as entertainment, because one cannot relax enough while watching it to do so.

Selected Reviews 

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Gravity is an extraordinary force to be reckoned with, a majestic, innovative, heart-pounding spectacle imbued with poetry and profundity.”

David Denby, New Yorker: “Gravity is not a film of ideas, like Kubrick’s techno-mystical 2001, but it’s an overwhelming physical experience — a challenge to the senses that engages every kind of dread.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “Gravity is harrowing and comforting, intimate and glorious, the kind of movie that makes you feel more connected to the world rather than less. In space, no one can hear you scream. But a whole audience can hear you breathe. And that is a wondrous thing.”

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