Music and Art In Your Backyard


The Gravity of the Situation: A Woman’s Place in Space and Film

For years, Hollywood has been trying to sell us remakes, sequels, prequels, and busloads of comic books on the silver screens, and they have been enormously successful. With the mainstreaming of three-dimensional IMAX in local theaters everywhere, they’re even justified in raising ticket prices for these regurgitated stories. Hunky male leads, textbook villainesses, and more CGI baddies than any nerd could honestly care for have practically brainwashed audiences into thinking they really enjoy seeing the same movie multiple times. Even James Cameron’s Avatar plays out like Disney’s Pocahontas, only with robots instead of musical montages.

So what’s a girl to see in theaters these days? If you weren’t already aware, Hollywood markets itself for the male demographic between the ages of 12 and 35 because that’s who’s making/spending money (or so they think)[1]. But if you’re like me, the girl who saves her last $12 and digs out that outdated student ID for a discount ticket, you’re probably wondering what all those expanded dimensions mean for women in the industry.

Because there aren’t many of us.

Image from NPR.org

Image from NPR.org

Sure, ladies have graced the stage with their bosoms since ancient times, but when it comes to penning the script, holding the camera, and mastering the complex roles, the successes come few and far between[2]. Even last year’s winner was a sex addict. And when Best Supporting Actress goes to a prostitute, you start to wonder where all the supposed cultural advancements in media have gone. Now, both women earned those statues (more or less), but where do the stereotypes end and the successes begin?

Consider this year’s mind-blowing space opera Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. George Clooney aside, who should win an award simply for keeping that face of his perpetually handsome no matter what birthday he’s celebrating, Sandra is the only human being amid the vast emptiness and violent debris that is space. Not only is she flying solo, she’s an astronaut, a scientist, a pilot, a firefighter, a multilingual phone operator, an Olympic swimmer, and – spoiler alert – a mom. Sandra has already been praised for her role as a mother in 2009’s The Blind Side, but her role in Gravity pays homage to the action movie royalty we know her to be[3]. What The Blind Side lacked in violence and intensity, Gravity delivers tenfold. Alfonso Cuaron will no doubt be recognized by the Academy for his masterful direction of a film shot with revolutionary equipment and effects, but it is Sandra who carries the entire 90-minute film on her slender shoulders.

When the Russians shoot down one of their own satellites, the waves of debris destroy George and Sandra’s station and shuttle, leaving them stranded in space. It becomes necessary, albeit a little over-dramatic, for George to sacrifice himself in order to guarantee Sandra’s prolonged survival. She spends the rest of the film struggling to get back to the ISS amidst debris, low oxygen, no gravity, suffocating loneliness, and personal issues which she must overcome if she wants to survive. The adversities attacking Sandra are continuous and unrelenting, a metaphor so obvious that both the director and the actress were well aware of what they were trying to portray, but the symbolism goes beyond just what you see on the screen. In order to capture the terror of catapulting aimlessly through space with nothing but a fire extinguisher for direction, Sandra was strapped to a large, immobilizing contraption for 10+ hours a day. Like a straightjacket tying her to a chair, she stayed strapped to the equipment during cuts and breaks because climbing in and out was too arduous of an experience[4]. This sacrifice of physical movement and emotional serenity for the sake of her role brings me hope that there is space for the female race in the future of feature films.  

Gravity not only uses IMAX and 3D entertainment the way it should be, it’s a thought-provoking film based on an original script with a bad-ass, emotionally complex female lead. She is a not a ballerina or a queen, she is a friggin astronaut. Out of the 521 people who have flown in space, only 55 of them have been women, and in all of the major motion pictures about NASA, very rarely do they star a woman in a spacesuit, let alone as the main (and only) character. In her role as Dr. Ryan Stone, Sandra Bullock can be seen as a symbol of astronomical transcendence. Regardless of George’s dreaminess, she does not possess an ounce of sexual or romantic tension; she is strictly focused on surviving. Sandra is so far removed from the hyper-sexual, idyllic roles women often play in drama. Upon viewing this film you forget she is – in fact – female, and instead focus on the struggle with living we all collectively experience as human beings. While the threat of immediate destruction by large, violent pieces of satellite gone helter-skelter is something most of us will only experience in a theater through special eyewear, the emotional tolls Sandra experienced both in character and while making this film are very real and very relatable.

In a poignant scene toward the end of the film, after all of her plans and attempts seem in vain, Sandra resigns herself to a peaceful suicide in a freezing space shuttle. Even as an audience member, you feel her frustration and apathy and you can’t help but root for her demise. What’s the point of it all anyway?  In a matter of months, more sequels and superheroes will clog our movie theaters, and our favorite actresses will return to the tried-and-true models of our past icons[5]. But maybe not all of them. As Sandra resists the warm comfort of death, so too can Hollywood. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your unrealistic plans come to fruition, no matter how foreign the controls on your last chance space shuttle may seem. Taking risks is what art is about, isn’t it? With her fiery return to Planet Earth, Sandra Bullock brings with her a new era of filmmaking that surpasses the barriers of space, sound, and gender. If we’re willing to pay for it, hopefully Hollywood will be too.

 

[1] For reference, check out Mark Harris’ GQ Article “The Day the Movies Died”.

[2] Unless you’re my girl Meryl Streep, HBIC, with the record for most Oscar AND Golden Globe nods.

[3] Two words: The Net.

[4] A wonderful article in Variety’s September issue covers this filming equipment in detail.

[5] Besides, if she dies, they won’t be able to make a Gravity 2

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Laura Kuhl is an avid writer using her MA in Professional Writing as a means to work her way out of her parent's house and into the ATX. She loves everything about the film industry, cheap food, and dressing the part. Fake it til you make it, ladies. Follow her film obsession on tumblr