the memoir I have been writing for more than a year, I am re-reading a biography of Joan of Arc that was instrumental in my conversion to the Catholic Church. Halfway through the book yesterday afternoon, I put it down to go watch the new film “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a woman lost in space.
Joan and Ryan have a lot in common. They are courageous women surviving in a world dominated by men. They face unthinkable odds. They fight their way through one damn thing after another. Along the way each hears voices. (No movie spoilers here, but the best moment in “Gravity”—for all its ridiculously jaw-dropping effects in IMAX 3-D—is the “voice” moment.)
But there are distinct differences between Joan’s story and “Gravity,” and when Katie asked me what I thought of the movie over dinner afterward, I said that I had been thinking about religion, and how the movie doesn’t have it.
I gather that this annoyed her, or that she didn’t agree, because she immediately talked about how beautiful the visuals of space were, how awesome, how spiritual.
Yes, I thought, but didn’t answer—because I’m getting better at not arguing—but the space was empty. This is not a religious movie.
A legend on the screen tells us this at the beginning of the film. There is no air in space. Life in space is impossible.
There is nothing above us. We are alone.
Joan of Arc rode across France to the rescue of Orléans and to see her Dauphin crowned at Reims because the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret told her to do so—in fact, had been telling her for five years. Every time the going got tough, and her male escorts feared for their lives, she told them, no, it’s OK, the voices tell me so.
Joan’s voices are real because she lives in an inhabited universe. Joan succeeds because she follows her voices, which she understands are only intermediaries between herself and her Lord, mon Seigneur.
When Dr. Stone hears (and sees) her voice, we are surprised initially. But we quickly understand that this visitation is not real. Dr. Stone is alone. She is up shit creek without the technology to get her out. Her visitation is only a projection of her own subconscious mind, waking her from a carbon-dioxide-induced sleep, reminding her of some things she learned in training but forgot in her panic. These resources—of her own mind, of her training, of technology—bail her out.
But what will Ryan Stone follow when she finally touches down on Earth? In fact, “Gravity” shows us. Earth is a silent world, and she is as alone here as in space. She can only wait for technology—a rescue chopper probably—to bail her out.
How heroic she is. How sad this movie.