Defining The Movie “Gravity”

Defining The Movie “Gravity”

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Gravity is a Hollywood sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney which was released on October 4th and is still playing in many theaters.

But what exactly does the word “gravity” mean in the context of that film?

The answer turns out to be more complex than you might think.

One definition of “gravity” set out at is

“the natural force that tends to cause physical things to move towards each other : the force that causes things to fall towards the Earth.”

That would seem very apropos for a movie entitled Gravity.

But “weightlessness,” the antithesis of “gravity,” where objects and people float around as though they were being wafted about through the airless vacuum of outer space by a gentle breeze or tossed about by a tornado, is what envelopes the film’s two actors, Bullock and Clooney.

( Photo)

So maybe the movie should have been entitled Antigravity.

But another definition of “gravity” better describes the situations that unfold in this film:

“a very serious quality or condition : the condition of being grave or serious.”

And as you’ll see from the movie’s trailer, things get pretty “grave” rather quickly.


“Gravity” can also mean “dignity or sobriety of bearing.” That  aptly fits Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, especially when compared to George Clooney’s wise-cracking Matt Kowalski.

But “gravity” can also denote “importance, significance; especially : seriousness.”

At times, Kowalski is serious and focused. And there is an “important” and “significant” event in Stone’s past life that plays in key role in determining whether she will survive the catastrophe which catches she and Kowalski off-guard.

The movies reviewed on Tales Told From The Road have a common trait: A “sense of place,” about which Wikipedia says:

“To some, it is a characteristic that some geographic places have and some do not, while to others it is a feeling or perception held by people (not by the place itself). It is often used in relation to those characteristics that make a place special or unique, as well as to those that foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.

Gravity is a film that could only be set in one place: Among the satellites, space stations, and the space shuttle, orbiting high above Planet Earth. But its shooting locations were earth-bound: Shepperton Studios in England, and Lake Powell, Arizona.

(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr Photo)

Bullock and Clooney headline a cast far out-numbered by the legions of computer graphics and special effects wizards that helped produce the film. In fact, they are they only two actors who appear on screen. (A third, who appears in the opening scene, is merely computer-generated.)

Ed Harris returns as the voice of “Mission Control,” a bit of a reprisal of his portrayal of Gene Kranz in Apollo 13. But he’s heard, not seen, and even then, it’s a cameo appearance; during much of the film he’s “Houston in the blind.”

This wasn’t Clooney’s first cinematic venture into space. He starred in the 2002 psychological thriller, Solaris, a fascinating film that appears to have drawn inspiration from such sci-fi classics as Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Silent Running.

Gravity is a stunning bit of cinematic magic and you’ll want to see it in the theater nearest you with a big screen (IMAX, if available), not a” living-room-sized” one such as those commonly found in shopping mall multiplexes.

Seeing it in 3D isn’t a must, but it does add an interesting visual effect which might cause you to suffer “movie-whiplash” as things going flying across, and seemingly off, the theater screen, and aimed directly at your head.

Just don’t forget to duck.


For a more benign yet entertaining “out of this world experience,” watch Commander Chris Hadfield perform this arrangement of David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” while floating around weightlessly inside of the International Space Station.


Gravity will eventually be out on Blu-Ray disc. Apollo 13 and the other scif-fi films mentioned is this story are available in a number of video formats. 

Listen to astronauts Jeffrey Hoffman and Don Pettit discuss spaceflight and the action scenes in Gravity in this episode of NPR’s “Science Friday.”

NPR “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross interviewed astronaut Chris Hadfiield, whose new book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything came out yesterday, about his experiences aboard the International Space Station and recording the YouTube video performing “Space Oddity.”You can read an excerpt from the book on NPR’s “Science Friday” Website; he appeared on that weekly show on November 1, 2013.

Hadfield was also interviewed on PRI’s “The World” program. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, on November 9th you can ask him for his view of “Gravity” when he discusses his book in conversation with Seattle-based freelance technical and travel writer, Pam Mandel, at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera where she’s been on the faculty of the annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference.

For another take on “Gravity,” read Kimberly Kradel’s review on her Website, Artist-At-Large. Purchases made from through links on this page help Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories.

March 3, 2014 update: “Gravity” won 7 Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.)

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