I often say that Avatar was the first film I saw in 3D but that’s not true. It was a space documentary narrated by Tom Cruise in the London IMAX. So it’s quite fitting that when I finally saw Gravity it was in 3D; I’ve come full circle.
Gravity, of course, looked a lot better, but in a way it was very similar to the Cruise-narrated documentary; much was made of its looks (and the 3D) to the detriment of the story behind it. And don’t get me wrong, Gravity is a beautiful film. But the script has a few good lessons worth highlighting for a writer of any genre.
Careful, there are spoilers in low orbit…
Don’t Let Reality Interfere
Gravity is careful to be scientifically accurate. But when science gets in the way of the story, the Cuaróns weren’t afraid to ignore it. In practice there’s no real possibility of an astronaut just hopping from space shuttle to space station to space station. But that would have severely limited the story opportunities, and so the writers ignored reality in favour of the plot.
Make a Character’s Death Mean Something
Gravity kills on two occasions. The first kills a bunch of nameless characters to illustrate the danger of the situation and to leave astronauts Stone and Kowalski stranded.
The second kills Kowalski. This is a character you care about. Sure it could be Clooney’s rugged charm. But the writers also took time to show us his stories, his little dreams, and how much he tries to help Stone.
Kowalski’s death is working overtime. It reminds the audience that no one is safe, not even characters they like. It removes Stone’s last source of aid and comfort. And it further complicates her relationship with death.
No Place to Hide
Gravity is a perfect, if extreme, example of motivating characters to move on. At no point can your characters find a place, in the world or in their head, where they can find any permanent peace. Sure it’s good for them to catch their breath, as Stone does when she reaches the ISS. But if the ISS was too safe, the story would have ended. Stone would have waited for rescue or she would have hopped in a Soyuz and cruised back home.
Each point Stone reached was either perilous before she got there or became so shortly afterwards. This prompted her to keep moving and the story moved with her.
The Importance of Death and Rebirth
Gravity offers a very clear and literal interpretation of this stage of the Hero’s Journey. Stone settles down to die only to receive a heavenly visitation from the dead Kowalski. She then regains consciousness with the knowledge necessary to save herself and she makes her peace with the death of her daughter.
Ultimately your character has to be flawed at the beginning of your story. They don’t have to be a broken mess. But they cannot be the hero, not yet. It’s only when they go through the death and rebirth stage that they gain the quality necessary to defeat the antagonist.
Did you learn anything from Gravity? Or do you disagree with any of what I’ve said? Leave a comment!