Anyone who has seen the movie Gravity will know that it wows on two fronts: one, for its special effects, which have won it countless film awards; and two, for the grief metaphor that runs like a slow teardrop down a window pane until it sploshes, with relief, into the credits at the end.
One of the on-screen phrases at the start of Gravity is: ‘Life in space is impossible.’ It can feel beyond a bereaved mind to contemplate how you will never see the person again, and how life will never, ever have the same richness or colour as when the person lost was alive. LIfe, as we’ve known it, will literally never be the same again. Living can feel impossible.
Anyone who has lost anybody close to them will know how tempting it is to withdraw from the world. Real life becomes a surreal one-foot-in-front-of-the-other experience: done for the benefit of others, for keeping up appearances. There are times when grief can propel you into a black hole, tumbling and turning without any control, and swiftly running out of oxygen – much like the character Ryan Stone in the movie.
And so, like Ryan, there is something liberating and comforting about not having to talk, or interact, or try to please other people when you’re so much in pain. Even well-intentioned friends and relativses can end up twisting the hurt without meaning to. It feels far easier to shut down from the world and go into outer space.
There can come a time when the isolation we create for ourselves becomes so overwhelming, and such a powerful option, that we give up. Stone does that when she lies down to accept her fate, comforted by the real-life sounds of a dog barking and a baby crying on the radio she has managed to tune into.
It is that moment of surrender that is also her calling to survive. After a visit from her lost colleague (which could be a dream, her soul, the life force, whichever metaphor George Clooney could choose to inhabit), Stone chooses life over death. She decides to pull herself out of the life-denying grief that has absorbed her for so long, and she chooses to fight for her own survival, her own life.
The visual rebirth metaphors of breaking waters and umbilical cords are rife in the closing minutes of the movie, but they represent a bereaved person’s re-entry into the world of the living.
It’s interesting that the movie is called Gravity, when most of the action in the film is about being weightless. The process of coming from the absolute impossibility of grief, and the disassociation it can bring on – long and short term – can feel like coming from a ‘nothingness’ back into the body.
And so the process of therapy can be like that: helping to embody concepts or feelings that are just ‘impossible’ or too weightless to ponder. Therapy helps ground them and bring them into being, to tether them and make them real. So the bereaved person can walk anew, and with feet planted on the ground once more.
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