“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”

– Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997)

In his 1993 paper entitled “Science and Religion” in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Anthony O’Hear wrote the following: “both science and religion lead us into areas in which the human mind is prone to stumble into paradox and contradiction, and in ways that are strikingly similar.” In our modern age, it is often difficult to identify these similarities, particularly because in their purest forms, the two concepts are nearly as polarised as they have ever been in history. No longer is science purported for the validity of religion, but stands for its own sake – the pursuit of knowledge for the pursuit of knowledge. Meanwhile, religion stumbles and balks at its own internal consistencies and contradictions, and the number of religiously unaffiliated individuals currently stands at its highest peak in history. Religion, however, is not to be confounded with faith. Religion can be easily mantled; faith, not so easily. It is the latter which places an immense and unshakeable trust in something deeply personal, cutting to the core of a spiritualistic and human essence. Gravity is the apotheosis of such an essence, one that is deeply rooted in the inexorable crux of rationality, but is beautifully immersed with profound humanistic themes that evoke the original spirit of science fiction cinema.

Watching Gravity feels peculiarly asomatous – an immersive, physical experience of asonority and weightlessness, as though heavy limbs are treading through an unforgiving ocean. Cuarón does not simply show us what space is like, he compels us to feel space in all its celestial sublimity, from its devastating isolation to the vertiginous sense of exhilaration. This quelling atmosphere becomes the ideal setting for the horror that follows – and it truly is horror. It is one thing to be subjected to the terrors of terra firma, but without solid ground, the experience is suddenly infinitely more discomfiting. What makes Dr. Stone’s ordeal even more terrifying is that there is no villain, per se – it is merely one person at the mercy of a vast and infinitely more sinister force than anything the human imagination could devise. The landscape of space is not an intentional villain, it merely IS; a merciless and unforgiving force of physics that looms more ominously than any extra-terrestrial alien. Yet, it is for this reason that the end is in sight. The presence of such a force is oddly comforting, for the fact that it is not hysterics, neither magic, nor God that will save you – it is knowledge. Within the laws of physics, it is possible to survive, requiring no element of divine intervention. To forget science, to forget protocol, means to succumb to doom and failure, giving way to unproductive sentimentality and pessimism. Accordingly, Gravity is one of the most soberingly rational and precise horror films to exist in modern cinema.

But what of faith? As science triumphs, it is only possible because of faith – again, not to be confused with religion, but a deep sense of personal faith. Stone does not survive purely on scientific knowledge, but instead with the entirely empathic and spiritual sense of being human, and the faith required to live. Even as Stone begins to lose faith, giving way to hopelessness and encumbering fear, she is bestowed with tiny sparks of hope which are blown into a flame of total lebenswille – the will to live. It is the human instinct to connect to another human being, and find comfort in that connection, whether it is real or not. Kowalski’s return and the voice over the radio – willfully conceived as ambiguous events – replace Stone on the path of spiritual awakening, finalised as she crashes to earth and emerges symbolically from the sea onto uninhabited and unspoiled land, like the first evolutionary step of humankind onto the planet. The themes of birth and rebirth emerge periodically throughout the film, from Stone’s foetal position as she prepares for her Earth-bound return to the baptism-esque emergence from the sea once returned. Stone is thus spiritually reborn, half-science, half-humanity, in a world where the two are never incompatible; and indeed, necessary in cohabitation.

So ends an era of deus ex machina, and Cuarón leads us honourably into slice of cinematic time that is humanism-inspired, respecting his film and audience enough to tell them that he trusts their minds and their souls. Stone survives because of personal choice and pragmatic deliberation. Science informs faith, and vice versa. In the end, says Gravity, only humans are responsible for their own fate, whether by means of prayer or theorem –  no gods need apply.