How the Film "Gravity" Rekindled My Faith


Gravity is a film about weightlessness. On the surface it is about physical weightlessness in the vacuum of space, but in its deepest sense it is a film about the desire for spiritual weightlessness. Too often do we clutter our lives with debris from our anxiety, grief, and fears. Too little do we allow our burdens to drift away from us and very seldom do we “sit back and enjoy the ride” that is our life.

Gravity is a reminder that life detached from God is like trying to live in the ever expanding boundless extent of outer space.   

Gravity is a survival film with a physical and spiritual dimension. On the visual surface, the film follows Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who are victims of a routine spacewalk gone wrong when the debris of a Russian satellite crashes into their space station. Stone becomes the sole survivor faced with the challenge of making it back to earth before she runs out of oxygen or the satellite rubble orbits back around and collides with her.
On the spiritual surface, the film is about the heaviness of Ryan’s soul in the weightless environment of space and her mission from death to rebirth. Stone discusses the traumatic loss of her four year old daughter as the story develops into a purging process for her grief. The film is not only visually immaculate, but spiritually in tune with anyone going through a dark night of the soul (a form of spiritual emptiness).
Right around the time that Gravity was released in theaters I was going through a serious spiritual battle. Early September I was diagnosed with vertigo caused by an inner ear infection. This wasn’t merely the kind of Vertigo that Jimmy Stewart had in the Hitchcock film, but the kind of vertigo that made me feel as if my own gravitational pull had been stripped from me, numbing my limbs and shortening my breath. The kind of vertigo that induced panic attacks in my car on the drive home from work. The kind of vertigo that drifted me further into the abyss of a spiritual drought. It came upon me suddenly one night as I was drinking a glass of water and then a week later as I was praying my daily rosary in my car. My left leg quickly began to go numb. My right hand started tingling as the calcium built up, the beds of my eyes pulsated stars, and a deep warmth ignited in my chest and spread outward. No matter how loud I prayed, I couldn’t fight my body’s urge to black out on the road. I made it home safely, but the effects lasted for months and I found myself engulfed in frustration with God and a fear of praying. So I stopped. I was so traumatized from the panic attack that I negatively associated praying with blacking out. I was angry that I couldn’t sleep properly, exercise normally, and drive without a fear of crashing.

I really wanted to go see Gravity 3D, but with all of this going on it didn’t seem like a good idea to surround myself with a 7,000 square foot IMAX screen and experience the visual sensations of Sandra Bullock having a panic attack in space. It all felt too close to home. Yet, if I had I known that Gravity was going to be one of the best spiritual film I’d ever seen I might have taken the risk, if not solely to help water the withering flower that was my spiritual life at the moment. Like Ryan Stone, I felt detached from my own self and attached to fear.

Attachments and Detachments
Gravity draws heavily on attachments. Immediately after the first satellite crash, Ryan is forced to detach herself from the safety latch which causes her to spin uncontrollably into the black void. She then has to tether herself to Kowalski, who says, “It’s pretty scary shit being untethered up here.” Without gravity’s constancy they severely bump into the ISS (International Space Station) and the zero -gravity drifts them dangerously apart causing Kowalski to make the decision to detach himself from Ryan in a self-sacrificial Christ-like fashion to avoid pulling her with him into the black. “Learn to let go, Say you’re going to make it,” Kowalski coaches her as he slowly drifts away. Later, Stone must detach the parachute of the escape pod from the space station to make it home…. And so on. Every attachment to something is a detachment away from something. Stone’s spiritual attachment was to her daughter’s death and she allowed that to detach her from fully living. “The Glory of God is the human being fully alive.” – St. Irenaus. I was like Stone, attached to fear and detached from God.

The film opens with the text “Life in space is impossible.” In space there is no gravity, no oxygen, no atmosphere… At first it seems liberating, watching George Clooney fly around in the opening scene with his jet pack and the earth as his back drop. Yet very quickly we are shown that without gravity life is dangerous, chaotic, disorganized, and wanders aimlessly without purpose. All of the dangers that are presented in the film are due to the lack of gravity. Zero gravity is the film’s antagonist complicating Stone’s mission back to earth, but it complicates her deeper mission, a mission from death back to life.

In the film, Gravity is God. Gravity draws one closer to life as Christ draws all men to himself. There is a beautiful scene when Ryan Stone believes that surviving is hopeless, she finally gets a radio frequency to work while she is inside the Russian space station. She hears the voice of a man speaking a foreign language, but cannot communicate with him. She then hears a dog barking, a baby crying, and finally the man beginning to sing to a little girl. She listens to the sounds of life soothing her as she decides to try praying for the first time. The father singing to the little girl is like God singing to Ryan. He is calling her again back from earth. There is no life out there in the weightless vacuum of space. Life exists in the weighted earth. Yet it is not the physical weight of Gravity that should bother us but the spiritual weight of our burdens that truly drags us down.  “Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Mt 11:30

In the beginning of the film Ryan Stone mentions that she could get used to the silence of space, mostly because of the noise in her life. Yet even in the silence of space Stone cannot find peace from her grief. While in the Russian space station she begins talking aloud to God and says she was never taught how to pray. In her darkest moment she discovers real silence, “silence” of the heart. She thought she was talking to herself, but God, who listens in silence, sent her a redeemer and she prayed for the first time in her life.

Once she gets to the space station there is a beautiful shot of her in a fetal position as if she were in a womb awaiting her rebirth. The Russian ship however runs out of gas before she can make it to the Chinese stations escape pod. She loses all hope. Giving up, she shuts off the oxygen to drift off to a peaceful death. Her redeemer, Kowalski, appears to her again like the resurrected Christ. His words fill her with purpose and he gives her the escape plan.  

“You can shut down all the systems, turn out all the lights and tune out everyone. What’s the point of living? It’s a matter of what you do now. Sit back enjoy the ride. Start living life. It’s time to go home.” She refutes him saying that she is out of gas, but he tells her to engage the landing process. Landing is launching. In other words, every end is always a beginning.

With one simple choice, her eyes open and she awakens a new woman. Her pessimistic attitude transforms as she speaks to Kowalski’s spirit. “I’m not quitting,” she tells him. You can see the true weight being lifted off of her and she becomes lighter than she has ever been. She speaks to her daughter and let’s go of her grief. She starts the landing gear and launches herself aboard the Chinese station where it takes her home. As the pod enters the atmosphere it begins to burn in high heat, like a spiritual purging, a shedding of her former self that leads her to life.

The pod impacts in the water and she finds herself submerged. She opens the hatch to escape and the water floods the inside of the pod. She swims out and emerges from the water like Christ after his baptism.  The film’s audio changes from the empty radio voicing of space to a full surround sound audio of the sounds of life, buzzing flies, splashing water, and gusts of wind. We see the green grass and dirt of the earth. Life is here. She’s like a newborn as she crawls out of the water onto the earth. Her hands press into the muddy clay. She struggles to get up as she now feels the weight of gravity. Gravity is always there tugging at us, but it is a necessary weight that orients us in the proper direction of our lives. Yet, even the weight that Stone feels as she struggles to stand up, she feels the weightlessness of her soul. The glory of God is man fully alive. Ryan Stone has been reborn.

When we try and escape Him in the silence of the cosmological “Heavens” we find a closer connection to Him on earth and in our hearts where life abounds. Jesus said “The kingdom of Heaven is upon you.” We don’t have to leave Earth to get closer to God. We need only walk a few steps and meet the neighbors or look into the eyes of our children, friends, and strangers. God is there. I allowed my illness to detach me from my gravitational connection to God. I was living without Gravity surrounded by fear and spiritual asphyxiation. God proves that even in the darkest times, life is always beckoning, especially in the hopelessness, despair, and frustrating spiritual battles.
Despite my spiritual darkness, a new light was born in my life, my daughter Imma Bernadette. She was conceived during the highest peak of my vertigo and after her birth this summer my dizziness has disappeared. I have never felt more alive. Even though my responsibilities now weigh more, I am liberated through a newfound spiritual weightlessness.

It took me quite a while to sit down and watch Gravity, but I am so glad that I did because it rekindled a flame in me that was put out for far too long. 
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