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Film / Gravity

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It says "DON'T let go", and what do you do?

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

Gravity is a 2013 sci-fi thriller film directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

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

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

Among many other honors, the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. While it lost Best Picture, Actress, and Production Design, it still went a long way in beating down the Sci-Fi Ghetto.

Also related to the film 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.

Previews: First Trailer, "Detached", "Drifting", "I've Got You"

Gravity provides 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.
  • 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 – Military:
    • Dr. Stone is a medical engineer by profession and she's supposed to be one even as the Explorer's mission specialist. However, she is put to help Kowalski repair something that is as outside of her area of expertise as the Hubble Space Telescope, only for the Hand Waved reason that the piece she's installing is derived from the device she uses in her field. In real life, even small astronaut crews are not trained to do everything; the Space Shuttle crews had seven astronauts, so there would have been more than enough manpower among the crew members to let a proper engineering expert do the job.
  • Artistic License – Physics: While it is a fairly accurate-to-physics movie, it is by no means completely true to them. Research was done, as 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), so he opted for some artistic liberties.
    • Kowalski telling Stone to detach from the manipulator arm, which has been hit by debris and is rapidly spinning away from the shuttle. He tells her she needs to detach before the arm carries her too far and he will not be able to reach her, so she detaches. The problem is she would have still had all the angular momentum of the arm itself, so detaching may have flung her away from the arm, but like a baseball pitcher releasing a baseball, she would have still kept moving, and not just stopped dead in space while the arm kept going. It may have been possible for her to release at the exact moment in the arc where she would have been flung back towards the shuttle, but that's an extremely iffy, one-in-a-billion chance that she clearly isn't trying for, as she releases when Kowalski tells her she has to hurry up and do it.
    • Kowalski's death. In zero-G environments, once the initial momentum had been absorbed, no additional tension would have remained on the tether. He shouldn't have been "pulling Ryan away from the ship", because there was no other force acting on him and he was virtually weightless, so Stone would have been able to retrieve him with only the slightest pull. Even if Kowalski was released, he would remain peacefully floating nearby instead of being violently catapulted to the space's void as in the film.
    • Interestingly enough, Stone's tears. Astronaut Chris Hadfield 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.
    • 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.
  • Artistic License – Space: 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. However, it is possible that the station was intentionally deorbited by the Chinese to avoid adding to the Kessler Syndrome.
    • It is unclear what continues to pull Kowalski away after his momentum has been halted by Dr. Stone grabbing the tether. Dr. Stone is only slowing him down. Her leg is 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. Stone's 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.
  • 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.
    • When trying to figure out how to get the Chinese Shenzou spacecraft on the Tiangong to start up so she can return to Earth, she mutters a sarcastic "No hablo chino.", Spanish for "I don't speak Chinese", after the computer gives her a warning.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kowalski sacrifices himself to save Ryan who manages to get back to Earth safely.
  • 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 confirmed 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.
  • Call-Back: "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: The voice of Mission Control is provided by...Ed Harris, who played Mission Control (or rather, Gene Kranz) in another movie about a space disaster, Apollo 13.
  • 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 Boomerang: 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kowalski appears to be frivolously using a lot of fuel with his Jet Pack in the beginning of the story. That proves his undoing.
  • 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.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In-universe example: 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 labeled in Chinese.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Stone gets to Tiangong mere minutes before it reenters. She then has an unplanned, unmanned splashdown in a freshwater lake in the Midwestern US, where NASA can easily track her reentry and send a rescue team.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: 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.
  • Cool Starship: The gutsy little Soyuz escape boat fits nicely into the "old, junky rustbucket" categorynote , 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 Finagle's Law."
  • 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. Note in Artistic License - Physics above that nothing of this was necessary.
  • 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.
  • Daydream Surprise: 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.
  • Death by Falling Over: Stone's daughter tripped during a game of tag, hit her head and died.
  • Death by Irony: Kowalski definitely holds the space walk record now.
  • Decoy Protagonist: George Clooney appears to be having a larger role as Kowalski. Turns out, he is only a Sacrificial Lion whilst Sandra Bullock as Stone is having most of the screentime for herself.
  • 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.
  • Disney Death: Subverted with Kowalski coming back to life... Not!
  • 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.
    • Later, Kowalski sets himself adrift in space.
  • Driven to Suicide: Stone turns down the oxygen when she gives up hope of reaching the Chinese station.
  • Drowning Pit: Stone, upon landing, finds herself caught in the Shenzhou capsule rapidly filling with water.
  • 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. As Cinema Sins put it, "We've already had her escape death about eleven times in this movie..."
  • 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 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.
  • 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 a Daydream Surprise 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.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Downplayed. During reentry, the panels of the Chinese capsule start to spray sparks.
  • 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 Timespan: 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:
    Kowalski: Oh my god... Wow. You should see the sun on the Ganges. It's amazing.
  • The Faceless: Shariff. The only time we see what's under his helmet is when there's not much left underneath.
  • 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.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: We don't get to see the actual impact in detail, but the remains of Shariff's face are extremely gruesome for a PG-13 movie.
  • 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.
  • Fight to Survive: "Life in space is impossible", as the opening title cards point out, and the bulk of the story is Stone fighting to overcome the many problems of being in space and make it back home alive.
  • Final Girl: Stone, outliving her companions.
  • 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 realize Stone is crying when her tears start floating in bubbles through the microgravity of the Soyuz capsule. Note that Stone's tears would not have formed free-floating tear spheres. The liquid's surface tension would make them cling to her skin or eyelashes.
  • 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: See Cold Equation.
  • Historical Fiction: An accidental example; the Space Shuttles are no longer flying.
  • Hitler Cam: The final shot of Stone standing on the ground — showing that she has conquered the adversity.
  • Hollywood Psych: Dr. Stone's daughter died not that long ago, yet NASA apparently felt it was all right sending her as a mission specialist to Low Earth Orbit, despite her lingering depression over the loss of her child(!). Even the excuse of "they couldn't get anyone else" makes no sense in this case, given that every astronaut/cosmonaut crew in history has always had backup crew members (in case the primary ones would become sick or be otherwise indisposed).
    • Somewhat justified as it was added into the movie by Sandra Bullock who thought her character needed less motivation to survive. Originally her daughter was alive and well, giving Stone a reason to not give up.
  • 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.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The vodka bottle hidden under the seat of the Soyuz. Then again, she was hallucinating.
  • 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 Boomerang when she later uses the extinguisher to maneuver herself to another space station.
  • 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.
  • Indy Ploy: When you are stranded in space with nothing between you and the vacuum except your suit, which is rapidly losing air, it's time to call in this trope.
  • 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.
  • 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 worst 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.
  • 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; a fictitious prototype upgrade to NASA's (retired) Manned Maneuvering Unit.
  • Leitmotif: The debris gets a distorted, synthesized, two-note theme whenever it appears.
  • Made of Explodium: Averted. Unlike, for instance, the comparable situation in Armageddon (1998) — where a small fire aboard the Mir space station eventually caused the whole thing to blow up spectacularly in mere minutes — the fire on the International Space Station causes no structural damage at all, and is only a problem in that it eats up oxygen like nobody's business, and could have damaged the Soyuz capsule.
  • Magic Countdown: The time it takes for Stone's oxygen supply to drop from 5% to 1% is roughly the same time it takes to drop from 1% to 0%.
  • Married to the Job: Stone after the death of her daughter; being a doctor is literally all she has left in life.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Did Kowalski's spirit stop by to give Stone one last pep talk before crossing over to the other side? Or was it the part of her that still wanted to live making her see somebody it knew she would listen to?
  • 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: In the early scene where the pair work to activate Stone's equipment, Kowalski refers to Stone's "beautiful blue eyes" though she points out that hers are brown. Later, he gives tit for tat during their final conversation:
    Kowalski: Well, people say I have beautiful blue eyes.
    Stone: You have beautiful... you have beautiful blue eyes.
    Kowalski: I have brown eyes.
  • 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 three 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).
  • Missing Mission Control: Things only get worse when the connection to Mission Control is severed.
  • 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. This would cause what's known as Kessler syndrome and has a high likelihood of rendering space inaccessible from Earth for a very long time (until the debris deorbited by friction with the extremely thin atmosphere at that altitude). No more satellite communications, TV, weather, etc.
  • 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.
    • Though the film itself depicts vacuum as a silent void, sound effects were added to the trailers.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: We never hear the full Mardi Gras story.
  • 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 a Russian Soyuz copycat, which she received training for. Except for: being larger externally; being more spacious internally (ultimately able to hold four to Soyuz' three astronauts); having different (and more modern) engine design, avionics, and so on.
  • The Oner: A Creator Thumbprint for Alfonso Cuarón. 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. Special mention: The opening scene, from the establishing view of Earth to Dr. Stone detaching from the structure, is a single, continuous shot lasting about twelve and a half minutes. Another notable instance occurs when she exits the Soyuz capsule to free it from the entangled parachute cords: her entire efforts, the approach of the debris cloud, the disaster that destroys ISS, and Dr. Stone's close-calls as the Soyuz is swung all over the place by the cables, is one single take until she finally goes back inside the capsule.
  • 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 is probably very uncomfortable, though given the situation, comfort is 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".
  • 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.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Stone mentions that she had a daughter who died in a preschool accident.
    Stone: I had a daughter. She was four. She was at school, playing tag. Slipped, hit her head, and that was it. Stupidest thing.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Stone tapping one of the instruments of the Soyuz to make it show the correct oxygen level.
  • 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.
  • Product Placement: We see a Mole Wrench in the cockpit of the Shuttle and in the International Space Station. We get a particularly good look at the one in the ISS because it's near the small fire that Stone misses. An alternative explanation is that the effects crew are Mole Wrench fanboys, and stick them in whenever they can.
  • Race Against the Clock: After the first debris strike, Kowalski and Stone are racing to get out of the way before the debris field completes an orbit and strikes again; Kowalski estimates the orbit will take 90 minutes and instructs Stone to set up a countdown on her wrist chronometer so she knows how long they have.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is 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 a Daydream Surprise so Stone is in fact giving the speech to herself.
  • Rule of Drama: Despite the emphasis on scientific accuracy, there are several examples of this. Also here. That being said, it's still one of the more 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. Fade 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.
  • Rule of Three: The space debris comes around three times with catastrophic results each time.
  • 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).
  • Sacrificial Lion: Kowalski.
  • Sanity Slippage: When she can't communicate with the ham radio operator she contacts on her radio, Stone begins howling like a dog after hearing his dogs barking.
  • 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 pilot, 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.
  • Scenery Gorn: The destruction of Explorer and the 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.
  • 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.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Shariff sure has a funny accent and loves space bungee jumping. He's the first to be removed from the main plotline.
  • 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.
    • Ryan 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.
    • 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.
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey:
      • The floating pen seen in several shots is reminiscent of a shot from Stanley Kubrick's movie.
      • Another 2001 shout-out is the scene in which Stone blows herself out of the capsule, similar to Dave Bowman doing the same.
      • And 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."
    • The lake Stone crashes into was filmed at Lake Powell in Arizona, the same lake used for astronaut Taylor's crash in the original Planet of the Apes.
    • After boarding the ISS, Stone starts undressing in zero gravity in a way very similar to Barbarella's opening scene.
    • The final radio message from Ripley in Alien is paraphrased.
    • Some viewers have humorously noted that Kowalski looks like Buzz Lightyear.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the most accurate films ever made about space. The film addresses many actual physical effects of zero-G that were largely ignored in other science fiction films, such as how when you start moving, you won't stop until you've hit something, which is really bad when a disaster happens and you're now spinning out of control. The movie's story is very much based on a real proposed space disaster, the Kessler syndrome.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: By the time Stone reaches the ISS, the station is deteriorating fast due to debris strikes, and she narrowly survives a fire by ducking into the remaining Soyuz. Even more so with Tiangong, which is literally falling into the atmosphere as she scrambles to a Shenzhou, complete with blaring alarms, exploding circuitry, and ominous rumbling as the station is battered by the thickening air outside.
  • Sole Survivor: What Stone realizes that she is about a third into the film.
  • Space Is Cold: The shuttle crew freezes solid, instantly, when exposed to the vacuum of space. In reality, it would take hours for them to freeze under most circumstances.
  • 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 Isolation Horror: Currently provides the page image.
  • 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.
  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: The film often cuts off the music to mark Ryan transitioning from spacewalking to inside a spacecraft and vice versa.
  • Survivorship Bias: Ryan Stone is one out of two astronauts to survive the opening scenes, but she remains the central focus of the film even before George Clooney's character dies.
  • Symbolic Baptism: Gravity ends with Dr. Stone unsteadily walking out of a lake: a literal return to life on Earth after a grueling trial to escape death on a space mission gone wrong.
  • Take My Hand!: Happens quite often between Kowalski and Stone, as the two of them tumble through space.
  • 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.
  • 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" provides 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.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: The fact that Stone and Aningaaq can't understand each other doesn't stop them from describing their troubles to each other in detail.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Of a sort.
  • Silent Credits: Which are punctuated with a gunshot.


Video Example(s):


Gravity's Ending

"...Guess We Won't Be Going To Mars Anytime Soon" indeed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / EsotericHappyEnding

Media sources: