Once again I’m overthinking a movie. This time it’s Gravity, a movie that appealed to the little boy in me who read young adult science fiction and still wants to be an astronaut. There will be major spoilers ahead. And now… let’s light this candle!
First let’s talk about the science. Are there inaccuracies? Sure, but I accept that as part of any movie. I noticed many of the things Neil de Grasse Tyson tweeted during and after viewing but none of them took me out of the story. So I give the inaccuracies a pass in Gravity.
I usually focus on the minor characters in my overthinking but this really doesn’t apply in Gravity for obvious reasons. So let’s look at the two main characters whose (alive and intact) faces we actually see.
Matt Kowalski is the classic space veteran full of the Right Stuff. He’s a quintessential example of the Competent Man in a lot of classic science fiction. But having him around would have made things just too easy so he had to go. Besides, a little Clooney goes a long way and I think he had just the right amount of screen time.
And then we have Ryan Stone. Her freak out during the initial crisis is completely understandable and would have happened to most people in her situation. Yes, astronaut training is normally a lot longer than six months but my take is that she was rushed through astronaut training so she could go up to do a specific job. Her training obviously covered a lot since she was able to pilot a Soyuz craft and don a Russian-style spacesuit without assistance.
Ryan comes into the mission with some emotional damage. I wonder if NASA’s shrinks had concerns because her dead daughter and apparent lack of attachments to other people. Instead of the familiar “I have to survive for my daughter” route another movie might have used the dead daughter messes with Ryan’s motivation and will to live. I’ve looked into a similar version of that abyss a few times myself so I understood when she gave up and cranked down the O2.
I didn’t realize she was hallucinating* until Kowalski was gone and for a moment I thought they were doing the overly happy Hollywood thing. But when I realized what had really happened I was impressed with how they played with my expectations.
Now that she’s back on Earth, I think Ryan is going to have a lot of survivor guilt and PTSD. The fact that she’ll probably be hailed as a hero will only make it worse. Hopefully Ryan will get a lot of counseling.
The other big think I keep thinking about is what the world is like after the satellite catastrophe (here are the relative orbital altitudes of the ISS, Medium Earth Orbit satellites and Geostationary Earth Orbit ones). It will a bit more serious than half of the U.S. losing Facebook. Global financial markets would crash and shut down for starters. Other effects would be mainly felt in the developed world but there will be ripple effects affecting a huge percentage of the world’s population, especially if the various satellite navigation systems (GPS, GLASNOSS, Compass, Galileo) are down. Considering the amount of space debris that would now be in orbit replacing the satellite networks would be difficult.
At the end of the day though, I would put up with the nausea of space sickness and the threat of silent, sudden death just for the view.
*My interpretation is that she was hallucinating and Kowalski was the part of her mind that was still trying to figure out a solution. I expect there are some who see it in a more mystical sense.