DISCLAIMER: Before you read any further, please know that if you have not watch Alfonso Cuarón‘s new film, Gravity, and that you intend to watch it, you probably should not read any further. Despite the illustrative quality to my point that some images were providing, I also preferred not to include an evocative one here, so not to spoil the effects that this film will trigger in you. I will assume that whoever read what follows is either someone who already saw the film or someone who do not mind to read an interpretation of this film before actually watching it.
The question of weight and gravity in films has been an interest to me for quite a while, and this following text will take its part in the sequel of five articles written in the past:
– The Weight of the Body Falling (sept 2011)
– Spinozist Collision (sept 2011)
– Gravity Dances (dec 2011)
– The Weight of the Body Dancing by Pina Bausch as filmed by Wim Wenders (jan 2012)
– Applied Spinozism: The Body in Kurosawa’s Cinema (mar 2013)
In these articles, I was insisting on the importance given to material encounters in films and photographs revealing the true weight of things, and thus the weight of the material assemblages that bodies (living and non-living) constitute. I was often making this reading through Spinoza’s philosophy that insists on the relation that these encounters compose.
This reading was possible because the weight of things constitutes their relationship to gravity. It is therefore legitimate to expect another approach when it comes t0 these encounters considered in outer space, where the gravitational force is still strong enough to carry each body in its orbit but weak enough not to see these bodies attracted to the center of the earth. As we will see later, the very title of the film reveals Cuarón’s dedication to the expression of these encounters in space. The ‘hollywoodian’ storyline can be seen as a strategy of infiltration to big budget productions, but let us not mistaken, this film is truly about the collision of matter in the vacuum of space. What triggers the plot itself, is the encounter of the protagonists with a pack of debris created by the explosion of a satellite and whose high speed does not suffer from any friction. All along the film, we are reminded of this fact: vectors of movement are absolute in space. In other words, a body in space barely pushed in a direction will be moved according to this vector without encountering any friction. Bergson’s sliding point about which I wrote in the past, is captured in an infinite inertia. All along the film, we are observing the body of the main character subjected to the violence of each change of vector it manages to adopt thanks to exterior elements. The silent explosions (there can’t be sound in the void of space) of Gravity, in a graphic beauty that makes us wish that we could see the last scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point in 3D, also shows us the multi-vectorial directions that the debris are adopting.
This does not tell us why the film is called Gravity and not gravityless or anti-gravity. Of course, a work of art is ‘strong’ enough not to depend on its author’s intention; however, I would like to insist on the fact that Cuarón evidently knows exactly what he is doing. It could not be less innocent that, when the main characters arrives on earth, she is immediately confronted to another milieu in which gravity is reduced: underwater. The scene insists on how she does not seem so uncomfortable with this milieu: she puts off her space suit that was filled with water and easily reaches the surface of the lake she is in. These conditions are sufficiently similar to space that she is not disturbed by them. On the contrary, when she reaches the shore, she cannot manage to stand up as she is experiencing gravity ‘for the first time.’ Cuarón insists on this image of this body that just faced the worst difficulties but cannot compose one of the most simple relation to gravity. Similarly it is not innocent that there is no ‘hollywoodian’ ending here, no swarm of Apache helicopters coming to the rescue. The main character is alone in a ‘natural’ environment and it is alone that she eventually manages to stand up and compose the parts of her body in relation to gravity. The name of the film is thus retroactively expressing the fact that the entire movie was dedicated to this very last scene, the most simple one, but that can claim to reach the teleological level of the tool became weapon, and thus the ape became human of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey. She is the first human on earth, the first one to experience gravity. For the second time of the history of cinema, we need a ‘spacecraft movie’ to make us think about the birth of human.