ANALYSIS: ‘Gravity’ and the unanswered questions of unbelief

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George Clooney as Matt Kowalski in Warner Bros. Pictures' dramatic thriller "GRAVITY," a Warner Bros. Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

George Clooney as Matt Kowalski in Warner Bros. Pictures' dramatic thriller "GRAVITY," a Warner Bros. Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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(RNS) Most of the reviews for "Gravity" don’t mention that the main character represents an increasingly common theme in American religion: The spiritual “none of the above.”

  • Earold Gunter

    Jeffery, Interesting “spin” on this movie. Christians have been trying to get some quasi schadenfreude from the deathbed confessions of non-believers since weak minded men started to find they needed to believe this life is not the only one they have. I think they are hoping that non-believers would give them affirmation upon their death beds that they have not wasted their lives worshiping and praying to something that has been concocted by man, and in most cases accompanied by a poorly written “holy” text of some sort for hundreds of years, examples include the death bed interrogation of Thomas Paine, and more recently the still alive (barely) interviews of Christopher Hutchinson. If you actually look at the raw research data, (thank you for the link) it provides a broader picture of this subject than the example than you extracted from it. Thanks for the opportunity to dig deeper and see what lies behind.

    Consider living life, and loving people without the promise of the carrot, or the threat of the stick.
    Good day!

  • Pingback: 'Gravity' and the Spirituality of Space | Spiritual Politics()

  • Henry

    They ruined the ending. thanks a lot.

  • My theory is that Dr. Stone actually succeeded in committing suicide in the capsule, and that the appearance of her departed colleague, her continued trip to the Chinese space station, and her splashdown and reaching the shore, these were all simply fanciful hallucinations in the moments after her loss of consciousness, and into her loss of life.

    As to the rest, naturally, Pandeism fully accounts. Blessings!!

  • democrats suck

    Disagree completely. I just saw the movie and she was praying. who cares “who” she prayed too, it could have been the Invisible Pink Unicorn, she ascribed to supernatural existence, and thus, a lack of atheism. Sorry my leftist atheist friend. Honestly, if atheists would be less left wing, they might actually have more intellectual draw. But right now, the fact that most atheists are left wing socialists as predictable as any zealot, they lose credibility in intellectualism.

  • Randy

    While perhaps a “none” early in the film, Ryan’s “none” is nevertheless religious. She believes in souls. She just regrets that nobody taught her to pray. The story is a pretty transparent telling of a should-have-been believer coming back to Christ, complete with a visit from an angel.

  • Pingback: “Gravity”: Ryan Stone’s Daughter | The Flip Side in Santa Fe()

  • Your analysis “sort of” does not do justice to the (cinematic and real) person who considers himself as an atheist but still experiences a spiritual longing, even a longing to pray. We should recognize and appreciate this desire to pray, this cry from the depth of our being in the face of death, as the very basis of all our prayers. And we should be grateful that a mainstream action movie is capable of capturing this delicate moment in a world dominated by tech-speak (the latter beautifully symbolized by the movie as well). The movie gave me an intense compassion and desire to pray for all the souls that have not been thought how to pray, in fact I did so in the parking lot right after watching the movie. Your analysis seems too cold and condescending to appreciate and love the person with a real desire to pray, and a real regret in the face of death for not having recognized this desire earlier. It sort of reminds me of the older brother in a parable known to us. Whether the Ryan Stone character is dead or alive at the end of the movie, and nonwithstanding her thinking she can’t pray, I interpret the ending that her prayer has been answered. Let us rejoice and hope our own prayers will be too one day!

  • Dena

    This quote made me cry. I felt that it is sad that no one showed her how to believe. I hear so many parents say that they want their children to be vale to choose their beliefs. My problem is that who is teaching them the options? This quote made it clear to me that this soul wanted to believe, but she was never taught how. So sad. This is the point where I cried.

  • Dena

    This quote made me cry. I felt that it is sad that no one showed her how to believe. I hear so many parents say that they want their children to be able to choose their beliefs. My problem is who is teaching them the options? This quote made it clear to me that this soul wanted to believe, but she was never taught how. So sad. This is the point where I cried.

  • MrDon

    She turns down the Oxygen sits back and falls a sleep she has a dream. Wakes up and begins to fight for her life again Was it God – no Was it a ghost – no. It was a dream, we all have had them and it wasn’t a ghost in her dream because it was A DREAM. We have dreams of people we meet and loved one that have passed on. Its can feel so real but it not same here. Nothing More

  • ejáye

    Interesting interpretation, a dream, during the finality of ones’ existence, the most fear inducing, physiologically traumatic instance– and Ryan simply falls asleep. Depraved of oxygen she suddenly rallies back to consciousness and decides to fight! But dream- state doesn’t occur instantly,[ there wasn’t enough time to enter REM stage sleep] and certainly not under such catastrophic circumstance– then what really happened to Dr. Ryan Stone? Is there a parallel, or philosophical, spiritual or transcendental subtext to her emerging from the metallic womb on the shores of the afterlife? Moreover, was the “baby crying” over the radio in someway ” foreshadowing,” rebirth? What are your thought Mr. Don?

  • Didn’t she have a Buddha statue?

  • Brian Westley

    “And that takes us to the “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated who make up one in five Americans these days. If they’d all sign up on a list, only the Catholic Church could claim more members in the U.S. The whole point of being unaffiliated, of course, is that they don’t want to sign on to any constraints.”

    I have never encountered anyone who has ever said or implied that they don’t belong to any religion because they don’t want “constraints”.

    What I have encountered are people who belong to religions who accuse unaffiliated people of doing so to avoid “constraints” — in other words, it’s just a stereotype used to disparage someone else’s religious views, to avoid having to actually address another person’s different outlook.

  • Dennis

    for some reason the religious just cant accept that some ppl, more all the time, have researched, reasoned, studied their own religion, read the evidence and lack of it, and come to the conclusion that there is NO GOD. we dont do that because our parents beat us, we had a crisis of conscience, cause we dont like to be joiners; we do that because we put our own faith on trial using laws of evidence and god lost. we dont have come to jesus moments, we dont reconsider when our lives are at risk, we just accept what believers arent able to (that when we die our bodies will turn to bone in a couple of weeks and that will be it).

  • Johnny sonic

    Sorry, but the religious exploration in this movie was simply a populist appeal that religious people want desperately to believe: There are no atheists in foxholes. Sure, there are plenty of “spiritual” people who claim no religion, but among scientists, the statistics in this article do not hold up at all. Scientists are significantly more atheistic than the general population and the charater of Dr. Stone was more likely to be an atheist than a “spiritual non-theist” than this article implies. The “no atheists in foxholes” notion is entirely false and offensive and it makes me very sad that people are still so bigoted against atheists that they entertain this concept.

  • Janine Largent

    Dennis, I wonder about your angry desire to eliminate what is a great source of hope for so many. Even Harvard Medical School teaches their doctors to treat patients “holistically” (body, mind and SPIRIT) Humans are spiritual even if that spirituality has a bilogical explanation. I am, therefore I pray.

  • L.C. Villlalobos

    One question. Does she survive or not. Is she really on a beach or is she dead and in heaven…..please answer….somebody….I’m getting a headache thinking about this.


  • Mark Lindamood

    I hadn’t even considered the possibility that the last act of the movie was just a dream. That Ryan would even *dream* about survival contradicts everything else we’d seen in the movie before that.

    Consider: At the point when Ryan turns down the air pressure in the first Soyuz, she has completely surrendered to despair. Since she has totally given up by then, why doesn’t she “escape” into dream about her daughter? That seems like a more likely dream for her to have before slipping into death.

    Whether you look at Kowalski’s return as a hallucination, a dream, or an allegory, one fact remains: some event occurs to remind her that her survival is still a matter of choice. If that event is just a hallucination or a dream, where does she find the inner resources to choose survival? Up until that scene Ryan had to be dragged toward self-preservation; the “event” had to have been a “push” from an external source.

  • Mark Lindamood

    Your last sentence fascinates me. Perhaps the notion that there are “no atheists in foxholes” is over-board and fanciful. But the fact that anyone could be “offended” by the suggestion that there are “no atheists, etc.” suggests that there are statistics which prove the point one or another.

    All it would take to disprove the “no atheists..” argument would be a *single* instance of an atheist who has faced some enormous calamity, surrendered to despair, and then survived anyway. Have you got a single story like that?

  • Traci

    I was wondering if anybody but myself saw a picture of a little girl reflected in Ryan Stone ‘s helmet when she was telling the story of her daughter?

  • HHart

    No, she didn’t say that no one taught her how to believe, she said that no one taught her how to pray. There’s a difference. Whether that means Buddha, or god, or some form of god. And what’s wrong with children making their own choice on what they believe in? I’ve made my choices based on research, conversations I’ve had with others, experiences in my life, and some of my upbringing. No religion was ever forced down my throat or indoctrinated into me. Religion isn’t something that works for everyone.

  • BLaw

    “relgion” is a mud stained buzzword in western society, and not without good reason. the quantum reality that consciousness simply never ends- and that humanity’s rise in science must strive to discover WHY that is, is a lot more plausible than the idea of a judgmental man in the sky with streets of gold or a burning trash can waiting for us after death. I believe absolutely humanity will transcend time and space- the explosive and exponential rate of technological progress can’t end any other way.

    i also believe Love is the most powerful force we have access to. is it God? some people would say so, but that word is just a place holder for Truth. “subjective” reality based on 5 material senses will be laughed at in textbooks of the future, just as the idea that a photograph can steal your soul is laughed at today.

    Great flick! And a nice thoughtful review here.

  • Alas

    Funny – why are atheists always so sure of things that can’t be proven, like there is no God, or that you understand the innermost feelings of believers? Let me humbly suggest that 1) you cannot prove there is no God without resorting to the same kind of reasoning that people use to prove there is a god, and have a gross misconception regarding the concept of faith, or an utter inability to properly utilize logic, and b) you are clueless as to what most believers actually think and feel.

    The way most believers feel about non-believers? One word…pity. I don’t really care why you don’t believe – that is your business. Whether it is your parents, you don’t want to be a joiner, or simply unbearable narcissism doesn’t interest me as much as you think it should. Sorry to disappoint. It’s a shame that you don’t believe, but …your loss.

    In the movie Gravity, the message of faith was pretty simple – in hard times, in hard places, faith (whatever faith) allows people to carry on and survive. It is a reservoir of hope when all is hopeless. Her logical solution to her situation was suicide. Her faith solution was to carry on, keep trying, never give up, and live. It motivated her to survive. Whether religion is “real” or not is irrelevant, the effect shown in the movie is definitely real and beneficial to many people. You atheists have lost/rejected this ability of humanity, and weirdly, think yourselves better for it. Again I say…pity.

  • I agree with you. I feel pity f