(Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
Editor's Note: Spoiler Alert
Alfonso Cuaron's box-office-record-smasher "Gravity" also broke new ground for faith in Hollywood, according to Christian reviewers who praised the film. They saw the presence of God throughout the film in an allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ, a personal interaction with God, and a God-given hope in the afterlife.
In "Gravity," the audience sees "the paradoxes of the Christian faith echoed on the screen," Paul Asay, senior associate editor for Focus on the Family's review blog, Plugged In, told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday. In an editorial for the Washington Post, Asay linked the story of medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) to the ancient myths of Osiris, Gilgamesh, Hermes, Odysseus, and Orpheus.
After the tragic death of her young daughter, Stone travels into space, suffers catastrophic accidents that nearly kill her, and at one point runs out of oxygen. At that point, she witnesses a visitation which gives her new purpose in life. In the empty dark of space, Asay wrote, she is reborn. This death and rebirth echoes ancient myths, but it also mimics the story of Christ.
"But the most powerful (and, in my belief, the truest) of these stories is that of Jesus, who died and (as is written in the Apostle's Creed) descended into hell, and rose again to bring us the possibility of new life," Asay wrote.
"The film deals with spirituality honestly, not explicitly from a Christian perspective, but you can take it as such," The Plugged In reviewer told CP. He admitted that "Gravity" does not carry an explicit Christian worldview, but argued that it hints toward the faith. "If you follow the trail, it will lead right to Christianity," he said.
Asay acknowledged another reading of "Gravity" – that the film elevates the spiritual "none of the above," the person unconnected to any established religion or church but still identifying with a mysterious spiritual force in the universe. "One of the beauties of really good film," Asay argued, is the many meanings that can be gleaned from a great story. While Ryan fits the spiritual "none of the above" model, her story also provides an allegory for Christ, therefore forming a witnessing tool to others.
"I don't know that I would make the claim that the film gestures toward Christ himself, but a God who interacts with events, who does miracles – there's a definite argument in that," Eric Hann, Cinema and Media Arts professor at Biola University and freelance cinematographer, told CP on Tuesday. He argued that the film showcased how a personal God gives new meaning and purpose to a suffering soul.
Although miracles surrounded her, Hann argued, the near escapes from death did not address "the emptiness of her inner self." Only a very personal engagement – the near-death visitation – gives Ryan new purpose and a drive to survive. "I don't want to say it's theistic, but maybe divine about the idea that what changed her mind was very personal – it was another person," Hann claimed.
"I don't know that Christ was explicitly stated, but possibly implicitly stated," the Biola professor concluded.
"'Gravity' takes the gravity of our situation on earth and in heaven quite seriously, elevating it from a thriller to something quite moving and transcendent," Craig Detweiler, an author, filmmaker, cultural commentator, and associate professor of Communication at Pepperdine University, told CP on Wednesday. Detweiler called the film explicitly "theistic."
"She literally says thank you," the filmmaker noted, referring to an exclamation of gratitude Ryan makes toward the end of the film. "You don't hear God called by name, but she does address characters on the other side of life in heaven, clearly believes in an afterlife, and clearly expresses thanks to an unnamed almighty," Detweiler argued.
The filmmaker praised "Gravity" for "dealing with life's ultimate questions – why we are here, why live, what happens after we die." Asserting how rare it is to find any film dealing with these questions, Detweiler also supported the answers it provides. "It takes grief seriously and encourages us to press on because of the promise of eternal life," he added.
In short, the Pepperdine professor called the film "miraculous and astoundingly beautiful."