Movie Title Misdirection and Meaning: ‘Gravity’ and ‘Cast Away’

Movie Title Misdirection and Meaning: ‘Gravity’ and ‘Cast Away’

This article contains major spoilers for the movies Gravity and Cast Away. If you haven’t seen both films, you may not want to read it.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Sandra Bullock floating in the absence of gravity in ‘Gravity’.

Based on the trailer and preview clips I had seen, the title of the Alfonso Cuarón movie Gravity perplexed me. Doesn’t the entire film take place in outer space, where the characters are floating weightlessly? Shouldn’t it be called No Gravity or Gravity-less? I get the play on words — “gravity” also implies “significance” or “consequence” — but the title seemed misplaced nonetheless.

Until I saw the film.

The title is a clever misdirection that makes sense only at the conclusion of the movie. It brings to mind Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis’ film starring Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland, a Federal Express worker stranded on an island following an airplane crash. Even though for most of the movie’s running time Hanks’ Noland is, indeed, alone and abandoned on an island — a castaway — the title of the film is not Castaway. It’s Cast Away (two words).

Cast Away: Tom Hanks returns home.
Tom Hanks discovers he’s been cast away in ‘Cast Away’.

The movie’s true theme isn’t apparent until near the end the film, when Noland  realizes that the one thing he held on to during his long period of isolation — his relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt) — has been lost. Presumed to be dead, by the time he finally makes it back home, Kelly is married and has a child. Noland has been tossed aside. Discarded. Cast away. Only in the film’s final act is the meaning of its title clear.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is similar. Despite all the razzle-dazzle special effects, the film’s most powerful moment is its final shot. Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone has been drifting weightless for roughly 90 minutes of screen time, with the camera floating in 3D space. Stone finally splashes down on earth and, with her muscles weak from the extended weightlessness, slowly crawls onto the land. And then — she stands up.

The impact of that final shot — with Bullock’s Ryan Stone standing firmly on the ground — is profound. You feel the pull of the earth holding on to her, keeping her safely anchored to the ground.

It’s an astounding moment, that makes us suddenly aware of something so common, so pervasive, it’s usually imperceptible in our daily lives: the way the earth hugs us in gravity’s embrace.

In that final frame of the film it becomes apparent why the movie is titled Gravity.

One thought on “Movie Title Misdirection and Meaning: ‘Gravity’ and ‘Cast Away’

  1. This movie is absolutely stunning from the get go. I can’t remember ever being pulled into a film so completely and thoroughly, and I don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful film. Its a pretty intense ninety minutes, with Bullock’s character constantly battling one catastrophe after another, and all of it is amazing to see. The plot is pretty straight forward (see it, I won’t talk about that), but its the way they pull it off that makes it absolutely worth seeing. Thanks to some incredible CGI, great direction, and solid acting, the movie is an absolute must see. I’m normally not a fan of 3D movies (I hate wearing the stupid glasses), but this movie uses it wonderfully and to great effect. I would strongly recommend seeing it in an IMAX theatre if you get the chance – if there was ever a movie made for 3d IMAX, this is it.


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