DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN GRAVITY.
Some of you will remember the end of the TV series Life on Mars. Protagonist Sam has been in a coma dreaming that he is 1973. When he finally wakes he realises that he was far happier in this fantasy than he is in 2006 real life so he throws himself off a roof. This triggers an infinite death fantasy allowing him to ‘live’ out his ‘life’ in the past. (That was the end of the original British show, the US version involved a spaceship.)
At the end of The Piano, made fourteen years earlier, Holly Hunter’s elective mute Ada tangles her foot around a rope the other end of which is tied to a piano that has just been thrown out of a boat. She is pulled over board with it but while sinking to the bottom of the sea, changes her mind, wriggles free and is saved. There follows an epilogue in which she describes how she sometimes imagines herself dead in the water, still floating above her precious musical instrument. It is possible to read this ending in a similar way to Life on Mars. Maybe she did drown and the closing scenes of her idyllic new life with the man she loves are the desperate fantasies of a woman at the moment of death.
Gravity also has a denouement that lends itself to this interpretation. Knowing that she is sure to die, Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Stone turns down the oxygen levels in her marooned spacecraft. As she waits to peacefully pass away she hears a knock at the pod window. Surprisingly space walking astronaut Matt ‘George Clooney’ Kowalski has found his way back to her having apparently died earlier on. He comes in through the hatch without Dr. Stone being sucked out into the dark abyss and tells her how she can get home. Then he disappears, his sudden arrival having been all in her head. Piping oxygen back into the capsule Dr. Stone puts the plan into action and eventually gets back to terra firma. It is all incredibly tense and exciting and it is immensely up lifting when she makes it home but it might not be real. Perhaps she never snapped out of her hallucination and she died in that little metal box, two hundred miles above the surface of the Earth, fantasising about feeling sand between her toes.
This might also explain the slightly odd bit were she propels her self through space with a fire extinguisher WALL.E style. I’m guessing the Pixar movie was her daughter’s favourite and her subconscious desire to emulate the little robot is a symptom of her desire to be a hero for her daughter in a way that she tragically was not able to be.
The fact is that this is not how I read the film at all. I’m just far too optimistic for that. Bruce Wayne was definitely alive at the end of The Dark Knight Rises and Ryan Stone staggers up the beach at the end of Gravity. But I love the fact that the film is open to this reading. It all just adds to the metaphor and poetry of this staggeringly beautiful film.