A quick note on Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, Gravity.
The film does not begin on earth – but it does nonetheless immediately establish a sense of ground. Clooney rotates around a space station, and the other actors are fixed firmly to some structurally secure part of the station. We notice immediately that the Effects which occur within the film result not from human actors intervening within their worlds but rather from the effects of objects (whose causes are unknown) within an interstitial gravitational field. This is a significant departure for film studies and it invites us to rethink the ground upon which we walk.
I borrow a few words from Levi Bryant’s piece (appearing in the next issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies):
[…] I have chosen to speak of gravity rather than power […] because the concept of power within the world of philosophy and theory has become too anthropocentric, immediately drawing attention to sovereigns exercising power, class power, symbolic power, [etc]. [This has] rendered it difficult to imagine nonhuman things exercising power as anything more than blank screens upon which humans project their intentions and meanings.
You can see then that in Gravity human actors are very nearly reduced to passive objects within a vast gravitational field – itself the effect of an object we call the earth – at the mercy of constellations of objects bending around other objects in the curvature of space-time. It is no longer power that matters but rather gravity itself. In fact, the earth, as the ground upon which we all confidently walk, has become bracketed by the curved mesh of space – and nothingness is finally placed at the center.
But in the beginning the nothingness is only a fantasized nothingness – it is the fantasy of Sandra Bullock. In her confident world, around that space station, the nothingness remains at a distance. It is only close for her imagination. Even after the disaster happens two of the main characters are tied together as if by an umbilical cord. It is only an umbilical cord which separates her from her psychosis. Clinically speaking, the psychotic is the one who is unable to separate – and is this not a great explanation of Sandra Bullock’s later hallucination? What happens in the hallucination is that she becomes the agent of the Other’s will, George Clooney, who up until that point had always been something like a God for her, speaks through her and allows her to decode profound meanings from strange languages.
And so, during this time of psychotic philosophy, what is the lesson? You must learn to let go, you must learn to separate. And then you must reinvent yourself and your relation to other beings. You must accept the ground as your home, but only after re-situating it as an object whose power is gravity and whose importance, from the perspective of the nothing, is ever so slight. Bullock, who admits to finding a sense of freedom and peace in the silence of eternal space, moves through a sustained time for thinking, encounters the trauma of real nothingness, only to finally kiss the ground and renew her sense of life. Gravity teaches us to let go, explore the void, and then, to return to Earth and embrace some ground. Learn to walk again, upright.