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.
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).
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.