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Essay

Gravity

By October 26, 2013 No Comments
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Two weeks ago I went to the late showing of Gravity… by myself. Fitting, I guess. Alone, with my glasses on, in the darkness. I read somewhere that this film is really a horror film without the alien or monster—reality is monstrous enough. My reading of the film is that its less about space, space stations, and the struggle to get back to earth; this film is about the monstrous nature of reality—the “nothingness,” the “void,” that threatens to break open our lives at any moment. We find out early in the film that astronaut Ryan Carter lost a child. There was no monster, no violence, no intruder—nothing that you could point to and say “the horror!” Her little girl was a child playing a child’s game—“gravity” and concrete were the unseen monsters that ripped apart her world. In space she is embraced by the void—she becomes fully aware of it, and she is finally forced to confront it. Her entire voyage is one of re-discovery and re-birth that ends with the creation of a new identity grounded in an entirely new way of seeing the world. Confronted with death and the negation of all meaning Dr. Carter discovers a new source of life as she speaks to her daughter. She is opened up to the possibility of life by grieving for her daughter, and in a certain sense, finally letting go.

In Gravity, we experience a poetic representation of one person’s struggle with the death of a child. Dr. Carter is disoriented (her uncontrollable spinning), and is brought out of it only with the help of some close to her. Unable to do anything for herself she is pulled along—guided to a place of safety where she can gather herself.  After much struggle, Dr. Carter finally gives in, calls on the name of her daughter, and weeps. This is the turning point—the moment of transcendence—the moment when she is awakened to the possibility of something new. The end of the film is less about evolution and more about the struggle to confront the void, to pull ourselves out of the depths of despair, and take our first steps back into the world. A horror film without the monster—a horror film with a happy ending.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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