WARNING: The following post contains major spoilers for Gravity.
Unless you're an astronaut or a scientist out to pick apart all the little truths Gravity may or may not have stretched in order to create a captivating work of fiction, there aren't many controversial moments to be found in the film. However there is one particular scene that stands out as what we'll call "the borderline scene" -- and what that means is this scene pulls you completely out of the film before dropping you back in way deeper than you were before. The scene in question is the one where George Clooney's Matt Kowalski character magically reappears beside Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone character toward the end of the film and the two have a conversation about her daughter.
Had George Clooney's character actually been there in the flesh, it would've severely hurt the film. It's one of those scenes where you watch it for the first time and you cringe all the way through it, praying he's a figment of her imagination. Please don't actually be there Cloons! (Yeah we call him Cloons in my house, so whatever.) After it's revealed that he is indeed a figment of her imagination, the scene still lingers in your mind because his imaginary presence also gives her a key piece of information that helps her continue to survive. At first you're all like, "Okay, I guess that's convenient. Don't we all wish we had Ghost George Clooney to help us out of a jam!"
What's interesting about this scene -- and we'll discuss just how brilliant it is in a minute -- is that Clooney wrote it all himself. In an interview with director Alfonso Cuarón, he admits as much while discussing the scene.
"We were struggling with rewrites, we’d stripped everything, a lot of the dialogue; we knew that anything that was going to be said, it was going to have a lot of weight," Cuarón said. "There was one scene we were doing over and over and over, and George overheard that we were dealing with that. And then one night I receive an e-mail from him, saying, I heard you were struggling with this. I took a shot with the scene, Read it. Throw it out. And we ended up using it. This was exactly what we needed."
When pressed to reveal the scene, Cuarón added, "I probably shouldn’t, but it was when [Bullock’s character] was ready to go back [to Earth, near the end of the film]. When she has this dream and starts talking to Kowalski about her daughter. And that’s something that George wrote. You have an amazing partner when you work with him."
UPDATE: Clooney followed up with The Wrap to say he didn't write this entire scene, only a portion of it containing a specific piece of dialogue. “Alfonso’s such a sweet guy. He hands out credit to everyone all the time,” said Clooney. “I said, ‘You guys are struggling, here’s an idea.’ So I wrote out a scene, and there’s a portion of it in the movie about Sandy wanting to live. They were struggling with how to tell people she wants to live, and I said, ‘Maybe you say she talks to her little girl and says Mommy loves her.’”
It's a pretty risky scene -- one that, on paper, wreaks of the studio forcing Clooney into more of the movie -- but once you begin studying it a little, you come to understand why it makes perfect sense. Here's Ryan Stone and she's on the verge of freezing to death. Her oxygen is running out and she's come to terms with the fact that these are the last minutes of her life. She begins conversing with a guy and his dog over the radio, and then Kowalski pops up out of nowhere. They chat about her deceased daughter, and then he hands her a critical piece of information about how to get out of there. Then -- poof! -- he's gone.
What actually begins to play itself out in this scene is a near-death experience for Stone (some are even suggesting this was, in fact, her death scene, and everything that came after involved some sort of "journey to her soul"). Naturally the last things on her mind involve human connection and her daughter, but something inside her keeps willing the newbie astronaut to survive. The key piece of information she receives from Kowalski was there all along, but her mind manifests this information inside the form of Kowalski because he's the last person she had contact with -- and because he also serves as a mentor to her.
This is a scene that changes the entire movie -- that borderline scene. It's not only teetering between brilliance and corniness, but it's also trapped somewhere between life and death, buried deep inside Ryan Stone's subconscious. It's ultimately up to you to decide whether or not it's her subconscious we're on a journey with following this scene, but I like to think it was that special something that punctured through her hallucinations and forced her to keep going. To keep surviving.
That's the message I personally want to take away from Gravity. That, when in doubt, the human spirit will prevail.
It will guide us home.
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