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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gravity

Joseph C. Goodson has provided an incisive and poignant critique of my meditation on the Crucifixion. His critique is all the more searing by its deep authenticity, anchored as it is, in experience. I do not have the words of response to such a profound experience of this world, yet I would offer my presence and witness to this experience. I cannot physically stand by Joseph, but I can provide a poor surrogate to stand next to his critique, clearly nothing of a point by point response, but perhaps a response of...solidarity...



If anyone needs proof that brevity is the soul of wit, then I would recommend the 90 minute film Gravity. I am strangely attracted to this work, and rarely miss an oportunity to watch it again on any occasion of its cableTV reprises. The setting is orbital space and the routine interface of humans and technology. Ordinariness, though, is quickly overcome by the impossible. When stripped of a cooperating technology, the human becomes very human.

The film focuses its interrogations on the person of Ryan Stone, a mission specialist, biomedical engineer and mother who has lost her 4 year-old daughter, Sarah, to a senseless death. The disaster that befalls her in space reflects the profound loss she still very much experiences. Indeed, the disaster is a metaphor of the failure of everything (and anything) to make sense. To restore any sense, Ryan must rebuild the technology from scratch by revitalizing what was dormant.

Rather than re-present my earlier thoughts on the film, I am now looking it at through the lens of the crucifixion, my reflections on it, and Joseph's critique. So, I am now seeing in Gravity Ryan Stone's crucifixion. She hangs on the Cross, abandoned by everything she has taken for granted in its grand betrayal. Though she perseveres, she eventually despairs in her abandonment, and chooses death by asphyxiation. Then something else impossible happens: in her hypoxic stupor, her wits sharpen through an encounter with a most unexpected visitor, her dead co-worker, Matt Kowalski, who reminds her of her knowledge and skills, which she then puts to work forthwith.

Now things get interesting. Through a series of impossible events, Ryan is hurtling back to earth as a mob of wreckage and other flotsam chase her, bent on her destruction. She emerges from her harrowing of hell as atmospheric light flashes through the window. The capsule's parachute deploys, and she descends into the watery womb of some nondescript body of water. The treachery of the waters also tries to kill her, so she must now divest herself of all the technology holding her down into the water; she must break free to be born. The scene is primordial as she struggles to live, to become. She comes face to face with ontogeny, a freely swimming frog, as she finally breaks through the surface of the water.

Here is resurrection, entangled as it is with death. She has crossed into the Cross and out the other side into reshith, from tehom, the deep. She reifies the feminine beginning. In stunning visuals, she recapitulates genesis, humanity's emergence from the praemeval waters. We witness the first human thought: gratitude. We know not its object, but we are made present to the thought. Etching a hieroglyph into the ground with her fingers, she whispers, "thank you." The moment suspends the direction of the utterance. She slithers from the water,  becomes a quadra-ped,  then struggles to stand as the first bi-ped; and we hear a faint laugh, perhaps Sarah's laugh (for nothing is impossible with God).  

Gratitude is a problem. Ryan has lost so much: her daughter, her co-workers, her faith (in everything). After such knowledge, what forgiveness? If Zizek were to have had a hand in the film, I imagine a final scene in which the camera pans the calmest surface of the water and finally rests under the surface---on Ryan, face down, still in her murderous spacesuit, quite dead with a quizzical expression on her face, perhaps a smile in final recognition that she had freed herself of the Big Other.

But of course that is not the final scene, and we are left with the mystery of gratitude. Impossible gratitude.

Other films come to mind here, Ray Kinsella's epiphany that Iowa is heaven (Field of Dreams), Ellie Arroway's (Contact) conviction that her experience was real and filled with hope, non-abandonment, and the preciousness of the rarity of life, even Edward Jessup's (Altered States) assertion that the 'first thought' was the violence of eating. Each of these films depicts some evocation of gratitude.

Who would ever think that gratitude could be the response to the real?




18 comments:

  1. I am starting to appreciate that in worldview characterized by entanglements, causes and effects become muted in uncertainty, even mathematical and physical uncertainty (Heisenberg). If you are familiar with the now famous thought experiment of Schroedinger's cat (I've alluded to this several times recently), then you can see that cause and effect are problematic. If you are not familiar with it, then I won't spoil the surprise for you (it's very elegant, and 'mind-blowing').

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    1. As I have been suggesting, it probably misses the mark if we posit 2 sets of impossibilities to account for life and death, joy and sorrow, peace and suffering. Impossibility, it seems, withdraws from these binarities into the enfolding and unfolding of *differance*. What is complicatio and explicatio implicates the very appearance of shattered-ness.

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    2. It would seem a fair reading to envisage Ryan Stone as embracing her shattered-ness as the condition of her resurrection, of beginning again. She takes it all with her into her new life, every disaster, every unbearable sorrow, her own despair, and even her own sense of gratitude, which cannot rest solely in the 'phew--that was close-- It's good to be alive.'

      Her gratitude is implicated, complicated, enfolded, unfolded.

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    6. Re: thought experiment: I would have said the same thing 1 year ago. But Catherine Keller, one of our more exciting theological/theopoetical thinkers, has answered this question with wit and wisdom in her_Cloud of the Impossible_. I've been through the book once, now reading for nuance (ha!). It is a fine book.

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    8. That jaundiced eye of yours will stand you in good stead. Keller is provocative, and her work gives us a fascinating vocabulary with which to navigate the mercurial seas of theology. I have found value in _Cloud_ because its project puts disparate ideas between 2 covers in a very engaging way. Like you I'm uncertain that it will all fly, but it allows my imagination to take flight, and that's the reason I read anything at all: a runway that gets my thoughts airborne.

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    1. I accept all this at face value. There is absolutely NO reason or provocation in the film to read it the way I've done. I had no idea you had not seen the film! The film can certainly be understood in its depth of feminism, Murphy's Law, the dangers of working in space, humankind's arrogance and shortsightedness in the face of nature.

      I read the film through the lens of the Cross to illustrate some of the recent themes in the blog. That it comes across as somewhat pedantic to you is a reasonable criticism.

      Even so, I do not think my reading posits any absolute ground for its argument, such as it is. Still, I was deeply moved by Stone's heroism, 'can-do' mentality, and survival instinct. But, to me, that 'thank you' is so absurd, it can only become for me one of Ricoeur's 'narrative extravangances,' or Rifaterre's 'ungrammaticalities' that herald the shift from the mimetic to the semiotic levels of the 'text.' And so, the most satisfying reading of the film comes from reading it 'backwards.' And that does not imply a de facto 'religious' reading. That is just one kind of reading that 'gratitude' shakes out from the film.

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    5. Just a short note about reading the story backwards: it's not a matter of inserting gratitude into to film's plot and dialogue. It is about accepting an invitation offered in the narrative to read backwards. There are 3 'ungrammaticalities' that invite a religious reading of Gravity. They are not compelling and only those already, as you say, 'believe' or at least know the Tradition, will allow them to reverberate 'religiously.'

      1. during the spacewalk after the major disaster, Kowalski asks Ryan where's she's from "where do you pitch your tent." This is precisely the Johannine language for the Logos who 'dwelt with us."

      2. The icon of the theotokos in the Russian ship is frankly religious.

      3. the Buddha in the Chinese ship speaks to a way of being religious.

      The telling of the story invites a reading of 'gratitude.' Is the final word of the film merely an apostrophe? No one need accept the invitation to enjoy the film, and the film works just fine as a completely secular spectacular feast for the eyes and ears.

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  3. CAN PURPOSE OF FAITH DENIERS BE SAVED? BY STEVE FINNELL

    Is it possible to have faith in Jesus but deny the purpose of faith and still be saved?

    John 8:22-24.....24 'Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."

    Jesus told certain Jews that unless they believed that He was the Son of God that they would die in their sins. The question remains, if the Jews said "We believe you are the Son of God, however, that is not essential to the forgiveness of sins;" would their sins still be forgiven? CAN YOU DENY THE PURPOSE OF FAITH AND STILL HAVE YOUR SINS FORGIVEN?

    John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall perish, but have eternal life.

    Is it reasonable to assume that men can say, "We believe that Jesus is God's Son and the Savior of the world, however, that has nothing to do with us receiving eternal life," and that they will still be saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF FAITH AND STILL RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE?

    Acts 16:29-31 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and said "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

    If the Jailer had told Paul and Silas that he would believe as an act of obedience and a testimony of his faith, but that believing had nothing to do with his salvation; would the jailer have been saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF BELIEVING IN THE LORD JESUS AND STILL BE SAVED?

    CAN THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM DENIERS BE SAVED?

    Is logical to assume you can be baptized in water, but deny its purpose and still be saved?

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    What are the probabilities that if the three thousand on the Day of Pentecost had told Peter, "We will be baptized, however, it is not in order to have our sins forgiven," would their sins still be forgiven? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL HAVE THEIR SINS FORGIVEN.

    Acts 22:12-16....16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name!

    What if Saul had told Ananias, "I had my sins washed away on the road to Damascus, but I will be baptized as an act of obedience and as a testimony of my faith," would Saul's sins have been washed away? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL HAVE THEIR SINS FORGIVEN?

    Ephesians 5:25-27... just as Christ loved the church gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

    What if men were to say that Christ washed the church with water, however, it had nothing to do with, sanctifying her, cleansing her, making her spotless, or rendering her holy and blameless? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL RECEIVED ITS BENEFITS?

    1 Peter 3:20-21 ....safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you....

    Is it plausible for men to proclaim that they were baptized in water, but it played no part in their salvation?Can they still be saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL BE SAVED?

    IS IT POSSIBLE FOR MEN TO DENY THE PURPOSE OF FAITH AND WATER BAPTISM AND STILL BE SAVED?

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved..... CAN YOU DENY THAT AND STILL BE SAVED?????

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

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    1. Thanks for this, Steve. Are you suggesting that the water imagery in the film has a baptismal significance? Can you flesh that out for us?

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