The deafening sound of silence in Gravity

Have you tried a Facebook fast?

Tried to spend a week without your smart phone?

In the old days the 40 Hour Famine was about fasting from food so that we would somehow be able to come to grips with understanding what it’s like to go without. Now we have technology fasts and hope that we would be able to strike up a conversation with a real human instead of our 350 Facebook “friends”.

With technology bombarding us every minute and available in the palm of our hand it begs the question: Can we truly be silent?

The recent blockbuster Alfonso Cuarón film Gravity was a startling look at the implications of silence wrapped up in an intelligent edge-of-your-seat thriller. The story follows a catastrophic event in space that cuts off protagonists  Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) from everything, plunging them into the blackness and silence of space. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth … and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left.

In the silent, airless moments she has left she begins to reflect on her life.

In one scene Stone reflects that she prefers the silence of space. Once she is set adrift with only the sound of her voice she begins to reflect on her life and contemplate her death. Thoughts of not being taught to pray and the loss of her daughter in a freak accident begin to flood her subconscious.

In the silent, airless moments she has left she begins to reflect on her life.

Even the opening scene of the film is almost unbearably, absolutely silent as we find our protagonists floating above high the massive expanse of earth in the vacuum of space.

Another clever metaphor in Gravity is that we tend to live with our personal sense of gravity off balance – contrary to our self-talk we are not the centre of the universe, our problems are insignificant in the scheme of life on earth.

There are many more clever visual metaphors in the film that director Cuarón has placed in the film to enable us as viewers to reflect on.

The universe is vast, we are small.

In silence we are made aware of our smallness and conversely, God’s largesse. Being still and silent can also help us focus on the “still small voice” of God.

Reknowned US psychologist Louis C.K. has said recently that as a society we have lost the ability to be by ourselves. We are so connected to our technology, that sitting still has become impossible.

He says we need to “build an ability to just be ourselves and not be doing something.” This is one of the reasons he doesn’t want his children to have mobile phones.

Mobile phones, he believes, are taking away “our ability to just sit there and reflect”.

While we may never have the opportunity to discover the wonder and silence of space (although I have to admit the film Gravity allows you to experience it quite well) , we do have the ability to turn off the smart phone and contemplate silence and reflect on our lives, our place in the world and our relationship to the still small voice of God.

Discussion Starters

  • What does Gravity have to say about isolation and the importance of connection? Why does Dr Stone try to isolate herself, and what do we lose when we withdraw from relationships? What does true connection with others look like?
  • How does the film explore ideas around grief and death? What does it suggest about the possibility of an afterlife, and what do you make of these suggestions? Is it possible to know whether there’s an afterlife, or what it might be like?
  • In what sense does Stone experience a spiritual rebirth over the course of Gravity? What kind of presence does God have in the film, and why might outer space be a particularly pertinent place to explore the idea of God?  How did you respond to the film’s spiritual dimension, and how – if at all – does the sight of earth from space inspire you to spiritual reflection?

Watch the trailer