We like to talk a lot about micro-narratives on this site, and how it’s important for stories to develop within individual scenes so the larger story can build as a whole. In this sense, pretty much anybody whose seen a film set in space can appreciate the fluidity and escalation within any given scene in Gravity, which can go from silence to chaos in a mere matter of minutes.
Gravity can essentially be split into its many tumultuous parts, where our main character Ryan Stone must repeatedly escape the satellite debris hurtling towards her through space. It happens, say, three or four times before she makes her inevitable trip toward Earth, where safety, familiarity, and loved ones rest.
This reveals Gravity‘s true intentions: it serves a metaphor for the grieving process. This is what gives Stone’s journey through space a purpose; this allows for a narrative exploring death and rebirth; this is what gives the beautiful imagery some defamiliarized humanism; this is what the film is about.
The trajectory of Gravity’s narrative traces the basic steps of the grieving process: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And surrounding this idea of working through the grieving process is the idea of rebirth. And before rebirth, there must be an exploration of death. We find that Stone is grieving over the loss of her daughter, while also delaying her own rebuilding process.
Stone is a highly functioning zombie in this respect—she’s grieving severely on the inside, yet using her profession to present an intact individual. So the trajectory of the film, as it works through the various steps of the grieving process, presents a broken individual who must overcome adversity (the loose, high-flying space debris) and come out whole once again on the other side—the other side being Earth, completing a metaphorical journey through space that returns Stone to the very place where the heartbreak originated.
In this sense, Gravity becomes a very hopeful portrayal of grief, one that relishes in tackling issues head-on in order to overcome, as opposed to basking in solitude and isolation.
What’s interesting to me too is that the “purpose” of the movie, this idea of grief striking us and finding healing: it’s the same plot as Tree of Life. We’re seeing the same story told in two different ways. Tree alienated the general public—Gravity will probably win them over.