October 10, 2013 [Gravity]


When I was eighteen or so, my mother was ill—well, she was often not well, one thing and another, a way of life more than a mere illness—something that comes on most of us and changes us completely, until one day we're surprised by better health as the sickness, furtive in the growing light, shrugs off our shoulders and it's as if we haven't had a sick day in our life.

It wasn't like that for her. Not feeling well was as good as it got. And when I was in my late teens the heavy wet clay of sickness had started to solidify around her, and she seemed barely able to move, let alone to make it to the doctor to hear him tell her to lay off the salt. And I didn't know this story until years later when she finally told me:

It was late, after midnight, and she lay awake in a sleepless stupor, not able to move, her arms and legs rock-still, the room still as well. She felt a dip at the foot of the bed, as though a smallish adult had sat down. And that's what it was, my dad's father half-turned to her, looking at her with his serious face. He had been dead a few years by then, and he looked at her that night and told her to get to the doctor's as quick as she could, she was dying, and it was close. She couldn't lift her head, so she just stared down her nose at him—not afraid at all, she said, always loved him, his gentleness toward her, his strident complaints at the world just a way to grease the wheel and get things done—usually by him, like this time in the middle of the night. So she went and found out that her remaining kidney was failing, and she had been dying in the poison of her own body for about a week, with maybe a day or three left.

In Gravity the charming astronaut—and when is Clooney not charming, even when he's a Coen brother fool, even when he's smarmy and self-confident, his Hollywood jaw set in almost-disdain against the lesser men around him—the women often seeing through him, but on his side in the end anyway? And he pulls that stuff again in Gravity, urges the spinning head and all of Sandra Bullock to survive, to use physics and the will to return to Earth, like a ghost returned—and more: an evolutionary circle—is that possible?—from the sea to the land to the sky to space and back to the sea so that she can crawl back to the land and dig in and let herself know that the you-are-there vertigo of the rest of the movie was actually exhilaration, the "wild surmise" that strikes you, no matter which side of the shore you come upon, like the sudden realization that you are whole and well.


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