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Film: Gravity
It says DON'T let go and what do you do?

"At 600KM above planet Earth the temperature
fluctuates between +258 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is nothing to carry sound.
No air pressure.
No oxygen.
Life in space is impossible."

Gravity is a 2013 thriller set in space starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

Two astronauts, Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney), are on a routine Space Shuttle mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope when the Russians decommission one of their satellites by shooting it down. The resulting Disaster Dominoes, as debris from the satellite spreads, results in Houston losing their own radio satellites, the Explorer being damaged and Ryan and Matt left stranded in space and short on oxygen.

And that's just the first (13-minute-long) shot of the movie.

Was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. It lost in Best Picture and Best Actress categories, but still went a long way in beating down the Scifi Ghetto.

Watch the first trailer here and the three trailers "Detached", "Drifting" and "I've Got You".

Also related to Gravity is the short film "Aningaaq," detailing a scene in the story from a minor, earthbound, character's perspective. The short was directed by Cuarón's son and the film's co-writer, Jonas Cuarón. It was commissioned as a bonus feature on the film's DVD/Blu-Ray release for consideration in the Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar, but didn't get nominated. It can be watched here, however it makes more sense after seeing the connected scene in Gravity. Tropes in "Aningaaq" are listed at the bottom of this page.

For the Starz series, go here.


This film contains examples of:

  • 2-D Space: Sort of. The space stations, satellites, and action in general take place in a thin shell of an orbit. In reality, satellites, shuttles and the ISS have their own altitudes to themselves, largely to prevent the sort of thing we see in this movie. The destruction of the Russian satellites would not have affected the ISS, for instance.
  • 3-D Movie: It was strongly suggested when this movie came out, to see it in IMAX 3D. It makes very good use of the format.
  • All Just a Dream: Kowalski's return, where he raises the oxygen levels in the Soyuz and tells Stone how to make it back to Earth, as well as motivates her to keep going.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Stone spends the first 20 minutes dealing with this.
  • Anachronism Stew: A fairly interesting example, since shooting of the movie began before the Space Shuttle was retired. But even if that inconsistency was unintentional, we see George Clooney's character flying around using an MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) that has so far been used only in the eighties (there is a newer model, which however is much smaller and only to be used in case of emergency), while the Tiangong station won't be up there in the configuration seen in the movie until 2015.
  • Anyone Can Die: Of the three characters seen alive onscreen in the first shot, two of them are dead by the time the film reaches the 35-minute mark.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: At one point Stone half-stammers excuses about how she'll never make it back until Kowalski asks her "Do you want to go home or stay up here?" She goes silent.
  • Artistic License - Physics:
    • The Tiangong space station is stably upright as it enters the atmosphere, though it would have begun to tumble due to the increased drag of the atmosphere on such a not-aerodynamic object.
    • Interestingly enough, Stone's tears. Astronaut Chris Hedfield gave a demonstration of how a person cries in space in April 2013 - in reality the tears form a ball on your eye until you get a towel and sop them up. Of course, Tropes Are Tools and the way it is portrayed in this film is much more moving.
    • Even if we assume this film takes place in an alternate universe where the Tiangong and the ISS are in the same orbit 100 miles (or even just 100 kilometers) apart, thrusting directly toward the Tiangong wouldn't actually get her there. At 100 miles distant, she'd need to do an orbital rendezvous. She would have to thrust away from Tiangong by just the right amount, which would lower her altitude on the opposite side of her orbit, then wait for their orbits to re-intersect and thrust in the opposite direction to re-circularize her orbit. If she'd thrusted toward Tiangong, as shown in the movie, she'd actually end up pulling farther away from it.
    • Of note, research was done: the script initially had a lot of exposition to explain what was happening, but Cuarón felt the resulting infodumps would take away from the characters and drama - not to mention double the running time.
  • Asteroid Thicket: The debris.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Greenlandic spoken by Aningaaq over the radio is not subtitled. The short film "Aningaaq," which shows his side of the story, has subtitles.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stone survives, barely, but Kowalski sacrificed himself for her, she's the only survivor of the mission, and the Hubble, ISS and Tiangong were destroyed by an ever-expanding cloud of debris in orbit.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Out of Focus Funny Foreigner Shariff is the first character to die in the film.
  • Broken Faceplate: Shariff's death is confirm not only from the large hole in the visor of his helmet, but from the hole in the back of the helmet and straight through the head in between.
  • Callback: "My eyes are brown."
  • Camera Abuse: Droplets of water impact the camera. Cuarón loves this trope.
  • The Captain: Mission Commander Matt Kowalski. A bit of a One-Scene Wonder, his cool head and utter calm in extreme circumstances helps Ryan survive.
  • Captain's Log: Despite being cut off from Mission Control, the protagonists continue to transmit to them (even asking permission for various actions) in case they or someone else can hear their transmissions and help in some way. This serves as a handy means of exposition for the audience as well as compensating for the minimal cast.
  • Casting Gag: Ed Harris plays the (unseen) Mission Control, the same role he portrayed in the Based on a True Story "space disaster" film, Apollo 13. His crew aren't quite as lucky this time.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Kowalski, intentionally doing it as a means to calm down the panicked Stone at times.
  • The Charmer: Kowalski. He's professional to a fault and a consummate commander, but he enjoys keeping morale up with light banter and good-natured flirtation.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The fire extinguisher that Stone hangs on to while fleeing the fire aboard the ISS, and which accidentally wedges itself inside the Soyuz. She later uses it to maneuver herself from the Soyuz to the Tiangong, à la WALL•E.
    • Also, Kowalski appears to be frivolously using a lot of fuel with his Jet Pack in the beginning of the story. That proves his undoing.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Soyuz flight manuals.
  • Coming In Hot: Stone gets to the Chinese station, but its orbit is already decaying. She has to pilot its reentry capsule down to the surface, even though the buttons are all labelled in Chinese.
  • Cool Starship: The gutsy little Soyuz escape boat fits nicely into the 'old, junky rustbucket' category, complete with a visually stunning separation sequence. The Shenzhou, a Chinese Soyuz knockoff that Stone uses to finally reach Earth may also qualify, but gets rather less screentime.
  • Conflict: One of the Man vs. Nature types. Or, more accurately, "Woman vs. the Laws of Nature, including the ever-present Murphy's Law".
  • Contrived Coincidence: Stone gets to the Tiangong just before it reneters. Despite it still being attached to the space station Stone manages to detach it and get its heat shield pointing the right way for a good landing. She has an unplanned landing on land, in a freshwater lake.
  • Conveniently Close Space Station: The space shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Chinese Tiangong are all within spitting distance of each other, despite really being in vastly differing orbits. The Tiangong is "100 miles" (in one line; "100 kilometers" in another) from the ISS, a figure which evidently stays stable in this film. Of course, if the movie was following the real life distances and orbits however, Stone would have never survived. Cuarón stated in an interview that an early draft of the script did try to work with the fact the HST, ISS, and Tiangong were in different orbits in reality, but it ended up with half the movie being the characters explaining orbital mechanics, so the decision was made to put them all in the same orbit for plot convenience.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • The advertising tag line is "Don't let go", but the theme of the movie is "You have to let go".
    • Inverted in Italy; there the tagline is 'Non Mollare Ora' ('Don't give up now').
  • Cut the Safety Rope: Kowalski cuts himself loose when he realizes that the ropes tethering them to the ISS aren't strong enough to hold them both.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Dr. Stone took the death of her four-year-old daughter quite hard.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory:
    • Inverted to "Bless you, muscle memory". The Chinese reentry craft is based off of the Soyuz, which Stone has been trained on. While she can't read the buttons, she does know enough of the layout that she knows generally where each button should be, narrowing down the guessing to a few buttons.
    • Stone almost loses her screwdriver when trying to detach the tethers by absentmindedly setting it down on the ship. In zero gravity, it starts to drift away. Foreshadowed when Stone almost loses a screw in the opening scene. She apologizes to Kowalski after he retrieves it, noting that she's used to a basement laboratory where things fall to the floor.
  • Danger Deadpan: Kowalski remains unflappably calm and collected throughout the entire disaster.
  • Darkest Hour: In the Soyuz capsule, Stone learns the fuel is out, resigns herself to death, and turns off the oxygen. Then a Helpful Hallucination gives her a Heroic Second Wind.
  • Death by Falling Over: Stone's daughter tripped during a game of tag, hit her head and died.
  • Determinator: Stone, from the conversation aboard Soyuz to the end credits.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Each piece of debris impacting a satellite or space station throws off multiple pieces that endanger anything else in the same orbit.
  • Disaster Movie: One with a very small cast.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Kowalski. Justified as he's trying to keep Stone calm by acting calm himself. Also an accurate representation of how trained pilots and astronauts are supposed to deal with flight emergencies — coolly and methodically. You don't earn your wings if you tend to panic.
  • Double Meaning Title: "Gravity" means both 'the physical force of gravitation' and 'the seriousness of the situation'.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: The protagonists enter the shuttle to confirm there are no survivors, suddenly running into the bodies of the floating crew, who weren't wearing their spacesuits.
  • Driven to Suicide: Stone turns down the oxygen when she gives up hope of reaching the Chinese station.
  • Dying Alone: Kowalski essentially floats off into space by himself. Stone laments how she will die without anyone to mourn or pray for her.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Several deaths and a whole bunch of hard work to get Stone back to Earth. And even after she makes a safe splashdown, she nearly drowns trying to leave the capsule.
  • Escape Pod: The main plot of the movie involves trying to get to one of these to make a safe return to Earth.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the 8 minutes before the plot kicks in we get many hints as to the type of people Stone and Kowalski are.
    • The first lines of dialogue involve Mission Control telling Stone that her medical readings indicate she's more than a little stressed. Control asks she'd like to stop what she's doing and return to the Shuttle, to which she replies she just wants to get the job done. That kind of Determinator willingness to push through difficulty is what winds up saving her life.
    • Kowalski comes off as a jokester and goof-off, constantly telling weird stories, ribbing his fellow astronauts, and playing country music. But the dialogue establishes that Kowalski is a respected astronaut who's thought of highly by all who've worked with him, which hints there's more to this guy than playing around.
      • When Mission Control informs Kowalski that he won't break the cosmonaut's spacewalk record; before they can tell him how much he's short by, Kowalski already knows he's 75 minutes shy. One could say that points to his vanity, but it's also a subtle hint that no matter how much he seems he's playing around, he seems to have a grasp of everything happening at any given moment. Also notice, immediately after accepting he won't break the record, he shrugs it off. Man's a team player.
      • Stone, distracted by Kowalski's music, asks him to turn it off and he does so without complaint. He also cheers her up over her lack of comfort in space telling her he nearly coughed up his kidneys his first time up, and also volunteers to assist her with fixing the module on HST. All this foreshadows just how much of a difference he'll make to her survival.
    • A bit of a reach, but the dialogue indicates Mission Control did not heed Dr. Stone's warnings that parts of the equipment she was installing might not work. One could say it foreshadowed how badly they underestimated effect of the Russian missile strike.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Kowalski makes sure to retrieve Shariff's body and check the interior of the space shuttle, just in case there are any survivors. There aren't.
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: No, it's not. A piece of debris hits the shuttle, sending it spinning. Stone is still attached to the claw arm; when she unhooks the tether, she's tossed into space and can't stop spinning, which means she's unable to orient herself.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The film could be described as "90 minutes of the universe trying to kill Sandra Bullock." The opening text shows just how hostile to life space is.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Kowalski knows that the debris will be back every 90 minutes, and asks Stone to set her timer for that.
  • Explosive Decompression:
    • Stone is startled to see Kowalski outside the Soyuz hatch, which he opens even though she's not wearing her helmet, sucking out all the air but leaving her unharmed once he closes the hatch and raises the oxygen levels. Turns out it's All Just a Dream anyway.
    • Stone has to open an airlock quickly to take shelter from an oncoming cloud of space debris; the hatch slams open from the sudden outrush of air, nearly breaking her grip on the handle. Then, at Tiangong, she can be seen attempting to get a good grip on the surrounding rail while opening the door, but it smacks into her as it blows open and knocks her grip on the rail loose, leaving her swinging from the handle again.
    • Averted with the dead bodies the protagonists find along their way.
  • Explosions in Space: Portrayed pretty well, it looks like. The one burst of flame we see expands in a ball then is gone a second later, leaving debris flying out in all directions. Stone survives because she's behind the Soyuz capsule. The one actual fiery explosion occurs within a pressurized compartment, albeit in microgravity.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The entire movie takes place in about 4 hours. The debris field attacks are 90 minutes apart, and Stone re-enters just after the third.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Kowalski, adrift and beyond rescue, sends a final transmission expressing awe at the incredible beauty of Earth from space:
    "Oh my god... Wow. You should see the sun on the Ganges. It's amazing."
  • Failed a Spot Check: Stone floats through the International Space Station and does not notice the small fire. This has consequences.
  • Fanservice: Two scenes with Stone in an undershirt, shorts, and bare feet. These scenes are, by the way, not accurate: in real life, astronauts wear special liquid-cooled undergarments like long underwear under their spacesuits.
  • Fatal Family Photo: After Shariff dies, we see a photo of his wife and son floating alongside his body.
  • Fetal Position Rebirth: Stone assumes this position after escaping to the ISS and getting out of her suit. One of the cords attaching her is even positioned to resemble an umbilical cord!
  • First Name Basis: Kowalski switches to calling Stone by her first name ("Ryan") in order to get her attention.
  • Flechette Storm: The cloud of space debris orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.
  • Floating Water: Played for literal tearjerker effect — we realise Stone is crying when her tears start floating in bubbles through the microgravity of the Soyuz capsule.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Dr. Ryan Stone. When Matt complains that it's no name for a girl, she explains to him that her father wanted a son.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: A routine satellite disposal causes a chain reaction that destroys a space shuttle orbiter, the Hubble Telescope, two space stations, and kills at least four astronauts.
  • Heads-Up Display: Projected on the space helmets, but not greatly emphasized.
  • Helpful Hallucination: Stone hallucinates Kowalski's return and his explanation that the soft-landing rockets can be used to get to the Chinese space station.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Not the entire function of Kowalski's death but part of it.
  • Hero of Another Story: As noted elsewhere, the other half of Stone's conversation with a ham radio operator who doesn't speak English was dramatized in the short film Aningaaq. The astronauts on the ISS presumably had their own adventures after abandoning the station; it's never revealed if they made it back.
  • Heroic Sacrifice/Cold Equation: Kowalski detaches his tether because his momentum is pulling Stone loose from the ropes attaching her to the ISS. It's also possible he maintains radio silence when she tries to contact him later, so she won't try a rescue.
  • Historical Fiction: An accidental example; the Space Shuttles are no longer flying.
  • Hitler Cam: The final shot where she is standing on Earth - showing that she has conquered the adversity.
  • Hope Is Scary
  • Hope Spot:
    • "How did you make it back here?" When Kowalski "makes it back" to Stone.
    • Stone makes contact with someone via the Soyuz radio only they're a ham radio operator who can't speak English.
  • Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: A fire breaks out on the International Space Station, and when Stone tries to extinguish it the thrust of the extinguisher slams her against the bulkhead, knocking her unconscious for a moment. This becomes a Chekhov's Gun when she later uses the extinguisher to maneuver herself to another space station.
  • Indy Ploy: When you are stranded in space with nothing between you and vacuum except your suit, which is rapidly losing air, it's time to call in this trope.
  • It's A Small World After All: An unplanned descent down to earth, which is 70% covered with water, nets Stone a water landing in a relatively shallow lake in the United States' Midwest. She's even picked up again by NASA's radars. Forgivable as it's a way to allow the movie to end where it does, with the audience knowing she will be fine, picked up in less than an hour, and not stranded in a remote area without anyone knowing she's there.
  • It's Probably Nothing: NASA mission control informs the astronaut team that the Russians have just created a big debris field by shooting down a satellite, yet both control and Kowalski initially dismiss it. Given that this is NASA here, they should probably know enough about space to guess how that could lead to a worse case scenario and taken steps to prepare for it. It actually takes Mission Control about 2 minutes to abort the mission, which could have given the astronauts twice the time to escape as they actually got.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The vodka bottle hidden under the seat of the Soyuz. Then again, she was hallucinating.
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Probably the least realistic aspect of an otherwise thoroughly researched movie, so we can get a good look at stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
  • Ironic Echo: After his job is done and he's told to take the day off, Shariff starts goofing off by launching himself off the shuttle and letting his tether snap him back, laughing all the way. Then he's hit by debris, and the same thing happens. Not funny anymore.
  • Jammed Seatbelts: Stone has trouble unstrapping herself from the claw arm, and is still there when the debris cloud hits.
  • Jet Pack: Kowalski has one.
  • Leitmotif: The debris gets a distorted, synthesized, two-note theme whenever it appears.
  • Married to the Job: Stone after the death of her daughter; being a doctor is literally all she has left in life.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • As Kowalski struggles to free Stone from the claw arm, Shariff suddenly snaps to one side on his tether as he's struck by the chunk of space debris that kills him.
    • Later, as Stone is trying to free the Soyuz module, the audience sees the debris hitting the ISS before she notices.
  • Meaningful Echo: The Blue eyes/brown eyes stitch.
  • Meaningful Name: "Stone" is a two for one. It both indicates how she's not really living at the beginning of the movie (aside from the part about visiting space) and how tough she proves to be as the story progresses.
  • Minimalism: The story is quite stripped down, as opposed to other movies of similar funding. As stated elsewhere here there's No Antagonist. There's a Minimalist Cast. Cuarón didn't have to fight with Executive Meddling (he has the cred to be trusted), but he did listen to people pitching ideas like the rescue mission being covered and Stone being in love with one of the mission controllers. This film is really simple - Stone is trying to get back to Earth somehow.
  • Minimalist Cast: The film has only two visible characters (with two dying by the 35-minute mark), with five other roles credited on IMDB as voice-only. The vast majority of this film focuses on Bullock's character, almost constantly.
    • The Aningaaq short likewise has just two visible actors (with one character not even named).
  • Monumental Damage: The satellite debris deals spectacularly catastrophic damage to the most iconic achievements of the modern space program, including the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the International Space Station.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • A Marvin the Martian toy floats through the space shuttle wreckage. Then a body.
    • The movie actually utilizes this trope to great effect throughout. With The Oner, we get several minutes of Shariff finishing work and goofing off, Kowalski amiably chatting, and Dr. Stone simply trying to get her tech to work. Just as Kowalski is starting to tell the Mardi Gras story NASA interrupts and tells everybody to pack up and get the hell out of dodge; now.
    • Kowalski comes off as a highly-experienced, but goofy, astronaut. However, the minute the situation calls for it, he drops the stories and jokes, and gets deadly serious, sometimes in the space of a sentence. Throughout his screentime, Kowalski will alternate between sternly telling Stone to get her head straight and focus, and then switching to jovial banter and light flirting.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Any lingering hope that Shariff is still alive is averted when we see the massive hole punched through not only his helmet, but his head.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: There's a lot more to this movie than simply the female astronaut being flung off into space. Saving her happens pretty quickly, actually.
  • No Antagonist: It's all just Stone versus the space debris, which isn't a character.
  • Nobody Poops: Astronauts wear a Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG), which is kind of like a diaper, because they cannot go back into the spacecraft to pee during a space walk. Ryan is definitely not wearing one - see Fanservice, above.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Explorer is the Atlantis in all but name. Even the soundtrack names it thus. It's further linked by the fact that the last service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope was performed by Atlantis in 2009, bearing a patch that served as basis for the Explorer's STS-157 mission.
  • No Peripheral Vision:
    • Played straight. Stone has to use the fire extinguisher when her back is to the Chinese space station, but she can't see behind herself due to her helmet; she has to estimate when she has rotated halfway around.
    • Kowalski looks at Stone's reflection in his wrist mirror when she's talking about her daughter, as she is behind him. We also see a wrist mirror on the Russian suit that Ryan gets into after she makes it to the ISS, as they are a standard piece of equipment due to the Truth in Television nature of this trope while wearing a space helmet.
  • No Time To Think: Stone has to reenter the Earth's atmosphere using the capsule on the Chinese space station whose orbit is already decaying, but the instructions in the capsule are all in Chinese. In the end she just has to push buttons and hope she's hitting the right ones. They're not complete guesses though. The Chinese capsule (Shenzhou) is pretty much a Russian Soyuz copycat, which she received training for.
  • Noodle Incident: We never hear the full Mardi Gras story.
  • The Obi-Wan: Matt Kowalski.
  • The Oner: A Creator Thumbprint for Alfonso Cuaron. The film uses a lot of long shots, and the camera is almost always moving—a visual shorthand for the disorientation of the zero-G environment.
  • One Size Fits All: Stone finds a cosmonaut pressure suit that fits her. While astronauts do have height and weight restrictions so they aren't too far off each other's sizes, the differences are still enough and the suits are custom tailored. At the very least that suit was probably very uncomfortable, though given the situation, comfort was unlikely to be a priority.
  • One-Woman Wail: Shows up towards the end of the title track in the film's score. It works quite well to show the triumph of Stone's survival.
  • One-Word Title: "Gravity".
  • Only Sane Man: Well, the choices aren't many, but there's no doubt that the calm, cool, and utterly collected Matt Kowalski is what keeps Dr. Stone breathing.
  • Other Stock Phrases: "I've got a bad feeling about this" used by Kowalski before launching into Let Me Tell You a Story.
  • Outrun the Fireball: When a fire takes hold on the abandoned ISS.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Several times things are seen through Stone's eyes.
  • Precision F-Strike
    Kowalski: "Do you copy?"
    Stone: "Fuck!"
    Kowalski: "Copy that."
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Although Stone flew the Soyuz simulator dozens of times (and crashed it every time), she still takes the time to pick each specific color-coded manual to verify procedure depending on her needs at the time.
  • Real Time:
    • Large parts of the film are in real time, though there are either cuts into the near future or compression, since the orbiting debris, which should take about an hour and a half to come around again, appears the second time about an hour into the film.
    • There seems to be a time skip when Stone and Kowalski are getting back to the space shuttle, and another when Stone is exiting the Soyuz capsule to untether it (in that scene the camera cuts from her in the capsule without a suit, to her exiting the capsule with full suit on). These two time skips separate what are essentially three long Real Time action sequences.
  • Reality Ensues: The parachute that was instrumental in keeping her near the ISS is hampering her escape in the Soyuz.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Following the first trailers, people compared the film to shipwreck films like Cast Away and Open Water. This is not the case. The time Stone spends "adrift" is relatively little. Afterwards she always knows where she is going.
  • Red Shirt: Shariff, who is pretty much just there to prove the danger is real.
  • Remembered I Could Fly: Even though she always crashed it in simulators, Stone learned enough about landing the Soyuz to know it has soft-landing rockets that activate at 3 meters above ground. Rockets that, in orbit, are useful for one good boost...
  • Retirony: This was supposed to be Commander Matt Kowalski's last mission before retiring.
  • Rousing Speech: Kowalski talks constantly in order to keep Stone's spirit up. Subverted with his final speech; it's All Just a Dream so Stone is in fact giving the speech to herself.
  • Rule of Drama: Despite the emphasis on scientific accuracy, there are several of these. Also here. That being said, it's still one of the most accurate films ever made about space.
  • Rule of Symbolism: "Rebirth" is the theme.
    • Stone floating in the capsule with her umbilical cord-like oxygen tube.
    • Stone never once stands on her own two feet until the very end, when she has overcome her trauma and resolved to live again.
    • The entire end sequence once Stone splashes down in the lake is one gigantic "being born" symbol. She is "birthed" from the capsule, and needs to shed her protective suit to swim to the surface of the lake. She takes her first natural breath in the entire movie, and then crawls onto the shore, where, the "fluids" of her "afterbirth" running off her, shakily climbs to her feet and takes her first tentative steps. Cut to black.
    • This same scene also includes a frog in the foreground, an animal known for its transformative life cycle from a weightless environment to land. Having a butterfly in its place would have likely been taken as too cliched.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Shariff. We don't even see his face until after he's killed (and we need to look at the Fatal Family Photo to see what that looked like).
  • Sanity Slippage: When she can't communicate with the ham radio operator she contacts on her radio, Stone begins howling like a dog when that's all she can make out of his rambling in another language.
  • Scare Chord: After their space shuttle is badly damaged, Stone and Kowalski inspect inside for survivors. They shine a flashlight inside to see that the hull has been breached. There is silence for several seconds, until the lifeless, frozen face of the captain, not in a space suit and exposed to the vacuum, appears right in front of Stone. Stone screams, accompanied by a loud, prolonged glissando and tremolo of violins.
  • Science Hero: An updated version.
  • Security Cling: As the tagline says, 'Don't let go'.
    Kowalski: I know I'm devastatingly good looking, but you gotta stop staring at me.
  • Scenery Gorn: The destruction of Explorer and ISS and the reentry of Tiangong.
  • Scenery Porn: Some of the shots of Earth from outer space and some of the space shot itself is amazingly beautiful.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Sharif sure has a funny accent and loves space bungie jumping. He's the first to be removed from the main plotline.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Shout-Out
    • Kowalski's insistence on playing country music while getting the team to reminisce about those they're missing back on earth is a shout out to Dark Star and its opening theme, Benson Arizona.
    • The astronaut grasping for a bolt floating in space resembles the poster/DVD cover for Planetes, as well as one of the establishing shots.
    • Stone stripping down to a singlet and panties resembles the shuttle scene at the end of Alien.
    • A toy of Marvin the Martian is shown drifting out of the destroyed shuttle that Stone and Kowalski escape.
    • Near the end, Stone has to fly her way to the Chinese Space Station with a fire extinguisher, just like WALL•E.
    • The Leitmotif for the debris sounds similar to the one used in Jaws for the shark.
    • The floating pen seen in several shots is reminiscent of another shot from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
      • Another 2001 shout-out is the scene in which Stone blows herself out of the capsule similar to Dave Bowman doing the same.
      • Also when she gets into the ISS and disrobes, she curls into a fetal position, with her umbilical floating behind her, reminiscent of the Star Child.
    • Kowalski has "a bad feeling about this mission."
  • Sole Survivor: What Stone realizes that she is about a third into the film.
  • Space Does Not Work That Way: Even the most technically accurate stories have to bend the rules somewhere.
    • There is a fire aboard the ISS, even though without gravity, there would no convection to sustain the flame, at least not the type of convective fire seen in the movie.
    • Space debris moving slow enough to be seen would have too little energy to be dangerous.
    • The Chinese space station leaves orbit and crashes to the Earth for no obvious reason. It seems to be caught in a rain of debris, but that could not possibly impart enough energy to cause reentry.
    • It was unclear what continued to pull Kowalski away after his momentum had been halted by Dr. Stone grabbing the tether. Dr. Stone was only slowing him down. Her leg was trapped in the deployed parachute cord of the escape pod, but if you look closely you will see that the actual parachute being slowly pulled through whatever it is entangled in. Kowalski is in a position to see that not only is the cord around Dr. Stones foot unwrapping, but the parachute is also unraveling because of his momentum.
    • A communications blackout would be unlikely as the ISS orbits at only about 260 miles and is reachable by just about every radio transmitter on Earth due to its unrestricted line of sight. Routing communications through satellites which operate at higher orbits would only introduce unnecessary delay.
  • Space Is Noisy: Averted. The film relies on its soundtrack (or lack thereof) to evoke action and emotion. The only sounds heard during the scenes where the astronauts are out in space (apart from the soundtrack) are sounds that would vibrate through their suits. Played straight in the trailers, which added sound effects to seem more exciting. Ironically, the film won Oscars for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
  • Space Friction: Averted; much of the drama comes from the fact that an object (whether debris or protagonist) doesn't slow down once it's set in motion. It also helps when they only need short maneuvering bursts to launch themselves across vast distances.
  • Space Station: The International Space Station and the Chinese Tiangong (albeit an expanded version) make appearances. The former is damaged by the debris cloud, then completely annihilated by the second pass; the latter is only damaged, but it's thrown into the atmosphere and it breaks up into chunks during entry.
  • Spiritual Sequel: To 1995 Apollo 13, as it is a 'serious' space disaster film based on current technology and starring astronauts rather than a straight sci-fi. Ed Harris even resumes his role as Mission Control.
  • Surprisingly Good Russian: Unusually for Hollywood, all Russian writing in this movie (such as button labels) features authentic Russian that actually matches what is happening on screen. This is probably because the actual Soyuz is not classified and so they could print the buttons to match the real deal.
  • Take My Hand: Happens quite often between Kowalski and Stone, as the two of the tumble through space.
  • Technology Marches On: The space shuttles were retired in July 2011, less than two months after filming of the movie began.
  • That's an Order: Mission Control warns them about the approaching debris, so Kowalski tells Stone to get inside the shuttle immediately. She says, "Just a second" as she's securing the Hubble equipment, but Kowalski snaps "Not in a second — NOW!"
  • Tomboyish Name: Ryan Stone. When Kowalski asks about it, she answers that "Dad wanted a boy".
  • Trauma Conga Line: Stone experiences this.
  • Understatement: Stone, after the second debris field encounter: "I hate space."
  • The World Is Just Awesome: While towing her to the ISS, Kowalski draws Stone's attention to the beautiful sunrise.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: "No more just driving!"
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Ryan Stone repeatedly exclaims "You've got to be kidding me!" when the Soyuz capsule's main rocket is out of fuel.
  • You Talk Too Much: Kowalski — Stone and Mission Control both gripe about his constant stories.

The companion short film "Aningaaq" contains examples of:

  • Downer Ending: The short ends with Aningaaq killing his dog Nanaan.
  • Mercy Kill: When he is talking with Stone, Aningaaq mentions that his beloved dog, Nanaan, is elderly and sick, but he can't bear the thought of having to sacrifice her and put her out of her misery because he loves her so much. Evidently, his conversation with Stone (despite the fact that they actually couldn't understand each other due to the language barrier) is what gives him the resolve to go through with euthanizing Nanaan, as the short ends with a single gunshot.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Of a sort.
  • Silent Credits: Which are punctuated with a gunshot.

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