I recently saw the movie Gravity, featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Much of the movie experience as a viewer is spent twisting and turning with the characters in 3-D, listening to the frantic breathing of Sandra Bullock, and thinking to yourself “Man, I’m sure glad I didn’t sign up for that Astrophysics class at Mott Community College.” Every time one of the astronauts began to spiral into space with no foreseeable way of stopping, my stomach would drop. I have a hard enough time riding roller coasters with their brief moments of free-fall; it was torturous sitting in a theater trying to imagine drifting into the in-finiteness of the universe.
The movie had a lot of themes intertwined within it; some fairly predictable, though others not so much. At the conclusion of the film, I was curious to hear what Father Robert Barron had to say about the film. Father Barron, among his many other methods of evangelization, often makes Youtube videos that analyze theological elements of popular movies. He reviews Gravity and does a little bit of analysis of some of the themes in this video (Warning: Contains spoilers): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv80VpPb–Y
I figured I’d take my stab at reviewing an aspect of the film that is hopefully unpredictable to you, my reader.
I mentioned earlier the feeling I got in my stomach as I watched the astronauts hurtle into the unknowns of the universe. The thought of not having something to hold onto toin a place where there is no gravity to keep me on the ground is, admittedly, one of my biggest fears. I have no problem with heights; I’ll climb up a tree or onto the roof of a building any day. I have no problem with trampolines; I love to find out how high I can rise before I’m sent back down to Earth seconds later. But to imagine an infinite free-fall is beyond my comprehension. I can barely fathom the feeling that skydivers must feel as they plummet from thousands of feet in the air.
Gravity is what keeps us grounded. We all know that on Earth, what goes up must come down. We cannot voluntarily go against gravity even if we want to. Jumping in the air only resists the force of gravity for so long before we are ultimately pulled back. It is only through such experiences as going into space that we can fathom being subject to less gravity.
At the same time, we are subject to a sort of free-fall even when our feet are firmly planted on the Earth. I’m talking about the concept of time. Whether you like it or not, you are subject to twenty-four hour days that continue to go on day after day. Time does not stop for you and you cannot go back in time or far ahead into the future. As we go about our lives day by day we are, in a sense, in free-fall mode. We are as much slaves to time as we are to gravity. Both time and gravity apply to all humans, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, religion, or race.
That concept of time as free-fall makes my stomach churn again. In recalling that moment of roller coaster free-fall, I remember that I was gripping onto the handle bar tighter than at any other moment during the ride. The feeling I get when I picture the downward slope of a roller coaster is the same feeling I get when I realize I cannot speed up, slow down, or stop time. I know I was thrown into this world and that the end of this “rollercoaster ride” ultimately means my death. I cannot prolong this moment of my death by slowing down or stopping time. I am subject to the free-fall of time as it invariably leads to my death.
Protestant theologian Paul Tillich talks more about this idea and argues that when we become aware of this sense that we are subject to the free-fall of time, we tend to thrash out and latch onto things that help us feel grounded. In an effort to alleviate our fears, we may seek out to find pleasure and power in the earthly sense. We seek the things that may grant us temporary relief or provide us with a temporary feeling of security. Yet if we do this, we will find that such pleasures and powers that this world may offer us are just as subject to the free-fall of time as we are. Thus we must root ourselves to that which is not as contingent as ourselves; namely God.
St. Augustine once wrote “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” In his book Catholicism, Father Robert Barron writes “Our shaken and fragile existence will be stabilized only when placed in relation to the eternal and necessary existence of God.” Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t mention all of this in his Youtube video; he’s already written a book about it.