I was prepared to be stressed out by Gravity: you've seen the trailers, so you know what I mean. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are in space, and then disaster strikes, and they get spun away from their craft. Owing to a recurring nightmare I've had since I was a child in which roughly the same thing happens to me (sans, sadly, Clooney), I was wary.
And it was stressful. I gasped. I bit my nails. I even felt a little seasick once in a while. But what I hadn't expected was this: watching Gravity, especially in the quiet moments, I felt an overwhelming sense of . . . wonder.
Sitting there, wearing silly-looking 3D glasses, I felt awe—and not at mankind or its "indomitable spirit." It is admittedly cool that we figured out how to make suits that let us float above the surface of the planet, and that we can talk to people in Texas from outer space. It's also super cool that we made movie technology that lets us feel like we're doing all those things from the safety of a movie theater. But that wasn't what left me in the throes of wonder.
Pardon the pun: I felt my center of gravity shift. I was made uncomfortable.
One reason is simply its wow factor: Gravity is enormous, and gorgeous. It is a technical achievement, but doesn't flaunt its technical achievement-ness (unlike, say, Avatar), and it must—must—be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Even to viewers numbed by myriad space operas and superhero epics and whatnot, the sunrise over the planet's curve can provoke wonder of the "what is man that you are mindful of him?" variety.
But the movie isn't all wide, epic shots: the camera sneaks inside Bullock's helmet and forces us to feel her disorientation and panic. It's not just Bullock who's vulnerable and fallible—it's everyone in the audience, too. Along with her, I found myself thinking about life and death, and the planet we inhabit, and its dangerous beauty. And I thought about how weird and wonderful it is that we matter at all.
This is a good thing for me to feel, because too often, my center of gravity is myself. It's easy for me to imagine that my world should bend to my will. I want to be an irreplaceable, singular Person Of Influence. And I can pull off that illusion by casting a penumbra around me with Twitter and Facebook and all the rest.
Sometimes I find that my movie and television watching can feed this fantasy. To be sure, movies don't create the illusion in me: it's there whether or not I feed it. But the very nature of screens and most entertainment (what some media theorists call the "flattery of representation") can just make it worse. Here I am! I chose to watch this thing. I paid my money. Give me something I'll like.
So it was good, if a bit jarring, to feel myself shrink at the film's beginning, when I found myself floating above the surface of the earth for a little while in absolute silence. (Absolute silence: as if of one accord, everyone in the huge theater stopped their popcorn-munching and soda-slurping and, I think, stopped breathing entirely for that minute before the spacecraft came into view.)