Sandra Bullock As Odysseus: The Film “Gravity” Is Insanely Good

I saw Gravity, and plan to see it again before it leaves theatres.

But it’s not a perfect movie. With its inane exchange of banter between the ground crew and astronauts at the beginning of the film, it gets off to a rocky start. But once crisis sets in, and the mayhem takes center stage, it becomes a powerful meditation on chance, choice, and will. It’s also great that the hero is female (Sandra Bullock). It’s a good film to bring daughters to. And unless you’re an astronaut yourself, you’ll never get so close to an experience of being in space as this movie, when seen on a giant screen, provides.

And I love the way it quotes Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in subtle and gorgeous ways. Gravity is a kind of sequel to Kubrick’s film in reverse (the movement is not from Earth to space, but space to Earth). It’s Odysseus, if you will, returning from a triumph (in this case, achieving an escape from gravity). But if Kubric’s movie conveys impressive Apollonian mastery of weightless maneuvering by humans–and accompanied by classical music (Wagner, etc.)–Gravity is more clattering and dissonant–John Cage in space.

Here’s how Homer’s Odyssey begins (in Robert Fagle’s translation):

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns

driven time and again off course, once he had plundered

the hallowed heights of Troy. [...]

[M]any pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea, 

fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.

This is Gravity in a nutshell, but with a female lead.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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