Gravity: Finding God in the Face of Death

gravity film still

I really enjoyed most of the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock. I get very easily motion sick, so I did spend some of the movie with my eyes closed. My husband is an amateur astronomer and surprised me with a date night to see the movie in 3-D, but forgot to take into account my weakness. However, while the spinning and jerking made my stomach turn, the cinematography was astonishing, and the movie was very intense.

As I’ve spent some time contemplating a lot of the themes since viewing the film, I’ve realized that there are many ways people can relate to this film on a spiritual level, and I think that’s a large reason why it is resonating with such a large audience. Though I did enjoy the film, I confess I was kind of surprised at how outrageously popular it has been. Now I think that this is due to the spiritual journey the character takes as much as the physical journey she experiences and the extreme technical achievements of the production as a whole.

Be still and  know that I am God - Psalms 46:10What would you think if you were facing certain death but knew it was going to take a while to come? What if you were completely alone, in absolute silence, floating through the immensity of space, with no one to help you and no one to talk to? This kind of situation would force you to evaluate your life in a brutally honest way.

I feel very blessed to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  (often inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon Church”), because it brings pure, eternal knowledge into my life that gives me peace in the face of such soul-searching questions. Perhaps that is one reason why I was surprised the movie was so popular, because when I asked myself these hard questions, I had the answers, but most people don’t! As I thought about that, the whole experience changed a bit for me.

Almost immediately in the film, Ryan Stone finds herself (yes, Ryan is a she—her dad wanted a boy), drifting in space after debris jerks her loose from her shuttle during a space walk. She is panicking and completely alone. The thoughts of the audience drift with her. What would that be like? Being completely alone, facing certain, slow death as you run out of oxygen. She is spinning uncontrollably and, with nothing to grab onto or run into to stop her, she is not going to slow down. Her panic is understandable, and viewers find themselves putting themselves in that situation. What would it feel like? What would they do?

Now, even though I am blessed to have the answers to a lot of eternal questions, I honestly do not know how I would react in this situation. I’m sure I would be quite literally sick to my stomach. (Remember, I get motion sick insanely easily, and I’m sure it would be less than pleasant to get sick in a space suit.) I’m sure I would also be panicking, because I do have a desire to live! However, I do not think I would be afraid of dying. Why? Because I know what comes next, and I know it is joyful and nothing to be afraid of. I know that after this life, I will return to a loving Heavenly Father and His Son, my Savior. I know that I will be reunited with loving family members. I know that I will have a purpose in the afterlife to help others find the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as I have that purpose here in mortality.

Luckily for Ryan, soon Matt Kowalski, captain of the mission, finds her and drags her back to the space shuttle. In order to try and help calm her down and conserve her low oxygen supply, he talks to her about her life. It is then that we learn Ryan once had a 4-year-old daughter who died in an accident on the school playground. Since then, Ryan has drowned herself in work and is obviously still suffering greatly over the loss of her only child. Her isolation in space is a foil for the way she has isolated herself on Earth.

I realize there are a lot of people who find themselves in the same painful spiritual situation. One of the joys of the gospel is that it brings you to people who need and value you. Everyone is of equal value in the eyes of God, and that applies here on the earth in building up His kingdom. Suffering loss and anguish is part of our temporal existence. It does not mean that God does not exist. It does not mean that He does not love us or that we are being punished. But knowing that God is there to help support us and to use all of our experiences (however negative and painful) for our ultimate learning and growth can help sustain anyone through the most difficult trial.

The rest of the film follows Ryan as she fights to get back to earth. As the lone survivor of the mission, she must rely on her own abilities and strengths, but she finds herself overwhelmed by this task. After Ryan has exhausted her own resources and has come up short, she reflects on what little impact she has had on the world. No one will mourn her when she dies. She has no family left and has not made time for friends. She states that she would like to pray, but no one ever taught her how. The only radio frequency she is able to pick up is a man on a CB in China. She can hear the sound of his family life and realizes that the relationships we build with family are the only lasting things of importance.

I have been taught from the time I was a child the importance of family. Next to our personal relationship with God, there is simply nothing more important than our families. Families are no accident. We are intended to be with them eternally, so we ought to use this time on earth to learn to love and forgive them. Ryan is realizing, as she listens to a family whose language she cannot even understand, the importance of the family she lost. I believe this refers not only to her deceased daughter, but also to the husband or companion she lost through focusing too much on her own concerns. She didn’t have to lose everything, but she did. I think here she is realizing it doesn’t have to end there. She can build again.

What struck me was that here, at her lowest point, when she is surrendering herself to despair and death, her informal prayer is answered. Help is given to her through a medium which she knows and trusts. God hears her and answers her, even though she wasn’t entirely sure how to ask for help. This is a confirmation to her that there is a God and that there is life after death. She finds hope again. She is determined to survive and to live a more fulfilling life, so that when she meets her daughter again in heaven they can be proud of each other.

I have always been blessed to know the power of prayer and how to pray. I think an important thing to know is that the act of praying is of far more importance than the manner in which we pray. If you don’t know how to pray, just talk to God. He will hear you, as He heard Ryan, even though she did not pray a formal prayer.

God is our Eternal Father. He created us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the deepest desires of our hearts. He doesn’t need to hear our prayers in order to know what we need, but the act of praying brings us spiritually closer to Him, and He can bless us even more. I pray continuously. I offer formal prayers morning and night, but often throughout the day I have a prayer in my heart. I say small prayers of thanks or offer small, specific pleas for help. I have never been let down. Even if I don’t get the answer I want, I know that God hears me and has my best interest in view. With His omnipotent perspective, He knows that sometimes what is best for us is not what we are asking for. Several times in my life, at least in hindsight, I have been grateful for not receiving the answer I thought at the time would bring me the most happiness, only to realize later that God’s plan for me brought me so much more fulfillment than anything I could have imagined.

After another series of miraculous events, Ryan finally finds herself on solid ground. She thanks God for answering her unspoken prayer and for giving her the guidance she needed. She learns that it is not nearly so important what she has done in her past as what she will do with her future and the extra time that has been given her.

If someone were to have asked Ryan before her experience in space if she would have wanted the experience she ended up having, it is certain her answer would be no. Who would ever want something like that to happen to them? However, she experienced so much growth, and her eternal perspective changed on the most important things. She risked her life, but she found her soul.

I am thankful for my faith in Jesus Christ. I am thankful for His sacrifice and atonement on my behalf, which gives me the opportunity to repent of my sins and to become more like Him, to ultimately be able to return to my Father in Heaven. Whether people choose to believe this truth or not, it is still truth—eternal and unchanging. How much more meaningful does this truth become, though, when we learn it and accept it for ourselves? It is life-changing and life-affirming, just as Ryan’s experience was.

At some point or another in this life, we will each find ourselves tumbling through space on our way to despair and destruction. We will be overwhelmed by the debris life is throwing at us and will feel unequal to the challenge of survival in the face of such adversity, but God is there every second, no matter where we are in this great universe. God wants us to succeed, and with His help, nothing is impossible. It is in these tumultuous times that Psalm 46:10 takes on special significance: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Sometimes it takes us facing annihilation to surrender ourselves to His will and power. Then, if we are still, He can work miracles in our lives.

Learn more about how Mormon doctrine can change your life and bring you the answers to eternal questions by visiting with a Mormon missionary.