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03 October 2013

Gravity (Review): “Y Tu Mama Tambien in Space”

Spoiler Alert
Read  the criticism after watching the film

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is spellbinding and it successfully infuses intelligence in a science fiction action drama.  I think there is already a critical consensus regarding the beauty of Cuaron’s latest offering.  Leave it to the man who gave us “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to bring humanity in the emptiness of space and beautifully lays out the symbolism of space exploration.  The big question in everyone’s minds now is to understand the core meaning of the film. 

In contemporary film criticism, films do not have a single meaning but a myriad of possible meanings. The viewers ascribe meaning to the film and must interpret the film on a personal level.  Alternatively, the viewer can simply abdicate ascribing meaning and just enjoy the film although the deconstructionist in me finds that dangerous. How do you know you are being fattened for the kill if you do not read the labels of the food that you eat and the warning signs around you? It is important to know if your house is actually a pigpen.  But I digress.

Here is one interpretation:

Cuaron offers his viewers many obvious clues. The shot of Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) floating inside the space module looking like an adult fetus inside a metallic womb is beautifully executed. The cords that held all the astronauts in place and from each other function as umbilical cords.  Outer space is the realm of pre-conception, the nothingness that surrounds the womb. Doctor Stone is rescued by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is the film’s symbolic male and father figure sans the usual sexist undertones. Finally, the landing of the spacecraft symbolizes birthing itself.

“Gravity” is thematically closer to “Y Tu Mama Tambien” than any of Cuaron’s other films. Both films explore the emptiness of an unexamined inauthentic identity that has succumbed to greater outside forces.  

In “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” the powerful outside force is society.  Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) are best friends who must conform to the roles prescribed by their society in order to live a “happy and contended” life, the definition of “happy and contended” predestined by the collective.  The two best friends, privileged and spoiled, cannot define happiness and contentment in their own ways. This is made complicated by the social injustice in their society that they see more as background noise than a thing that profoundly affects their lives.  Julio and Tenoch represent the disconnect of privileged individuals living in a Third World country from their “true self-defined identities” and, in effect, from their society.  Julio and Tenoch love each other but they cannot actualize that love and must use conduits to find satisfaction and happiness.  In the end, the two best friends are discontented.

“Gravity” follows the same trajectory. In “Gravity,” space is the powerful outside force that Doctor Ryan Stone must defeat. In the beginning of the movie, Doctor Stone chooses the numbing rigors of work on earth and the emptiness and silence of space to escape from herself. She is barely living and the empty vastness of space justifies her non-existence.  In simple physics, she is a body at rest until a greater outside force set her into motion. 

If “Y Tu Mama Tambien” has Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú), “Gravity” has Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Both older and more experienced characters guide the younger and lost characters to find and then acknowledge their authentic selves.  Unlike ““Y Tu Mama Tambien” though, “Gravity” is more hopeful. Doctor Stone succeeds in reclaiming herself and defeats the powerful outside forces that compel her to surrender. She chooses life as symbolized by her unwavering determination to land on earth, to be born again into a new person.                   

Sandra Bullock rules!  She is a strong contender for next year’s Oscar Best Actress.

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