Technology, Performance, Metaphor and the Monomyth in Gravity
Who teaches a baby how to walk? Nature, God, parents? But metaphorically speaking, who teaches a broken, down-in-the-dumps adult how to ‘walk’? Can one even teach such a thing? Director Alfonso Cuarón just did that with his space truckin’, metaphor infested, gravity-defying thriller Gravity. He even goes a step further to show us ‘gravity’. Yep, such is the impact of this 91-minute man-is-stanger-than-science feature that by the time you reach the last shot, you can actually feel the gravity that keeps you grounded…keeps you walking.
Little remains unsaid about the film’s effective coalescence of:
- Performance with Technology: Gravity is Sandra Bullock’s evolution. Even if she’ll never give us a ‘Gravity’-defying performance again, she’ll go down in cinematic history as the dark horse who surprised moviedom with her role as the troubled, lost and found again Dr. Ryan Stone from Lake Zurich. And when such performances combine with the justified use of technology such as 3D and CG to impart depth, space and vastness in a subject about time, deep-space and the stars, the results prove how ineffectively and commercially these technologies are being exploited by other accomplished and not so accomplished directors, and the studios alike.
- Sound with Music: Rarely has sound been effectively used to communicate the vastness of silence, accentuated further by Steven Price’s minimalistic score to produce a synesthetic effect on the mind, triggering sensations and visuals that take you on a trip of your own. Think how the silence combines with music and Kowalski’s (George Clooney in a motivational-speaker kinda, ‘look at me, I’m too smart and content playing second fiddle’ performance) final words to Dr. Stone that instantly transport the viewer to the Ganges, “You should see the sun shining on the Ganges…”
- Visuals with CG/3D: When Emmanuel Lubezki’s surreal cinematography of our planet from a different perspective up above combine with CG and 3D technology, the depth sucks you into the mood—sometimes into the emptiness of space, sometimes into the beauty of the moment, and sometimes up, close and personal inside the space-hoppers helmet. Simultaneously meditative and fear evoking.
But what remains unsaid is Gravity’s structure and narrative that follow the Monomyth effectively and are metaphors every step of the way.
For the uninitiated, Monomyth is a narrative pattern or structure brought to light by Joseph Campbell that describes how myths, legends, tales and fables across cultures and continents share common and fundamental structures and stages. Think The Mahabharata, The Bible, Lord of The Rings, et al. In a way, man’s eternal quest or journey—in this lifetime and beyond, consciously or subconsciously, in life or in the afterlife—itself follows this pattern. Think Buddha, Jesus, or Lord Rama. Filmmaking and storytelling too fall either completely or partially into some stage of the Monomyth. For instance, Star Wars, Avatar, or Harry Potter.
While most narratives literally mimic the structure and stages of the Monomyth, they fail to grasp the true essence behind the Monomyth: the subtext. This is where Gravity scores on all counts and retains the subtext as the crux of the story. Where other films take many instalments, plot devices, tropes and dialogues to take us through the Monomyth, Gravity does it seamlessly with minimum dialogue, run-time or clichéd tropes. Observe Dr. Stone’s journey that follows the various metaphorical stages of the Monomyth:
- From a reluctant adventurer, to getting initiated by Kowalski;
- Crossing hurdles, trials and tribulations both physical and of the mind;
- Fighting inner demons and rediscovering herself;
- The liberation and apotheosis that propel her;
- The homecoming and ultimate rebirth;
– All stages from the Monomyth. All metaphors on the cycle of life and death.
In those closing moments when Dr. Stone crash lands into a lake, swims, rolls and crawls ashore to rediscover how to ‘walk’ again, the camera focuses on her toned, seemingly freshly fleshed legs like those of a newborn, I don’t cease to wonder, “How many ‘deaths’ before we actually learn to ‘walk’ again?”
And then, the confounding question, “Where did Dr. Stone crash land? Was that Lake Zurich?”
For now, let’s go Space Truckin’ with Purple —
Wonderful dissection of this wondrous film…especially the monomyth aspects. I love the idea of tracing recurrent themes across time, culture and religion. This film definitely tapped into that and into a primordial sense of wonder.