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On motion & self-motion

This is the story of a badly failed space mission. American astronauts are destroyed by flying debris created by a Russian missile attack on a Russian spy satellite. Many satellites are destroyed; satellite communications are destroyed, perhaps, worldwide. The facebook going down joke suggests how difficult meaningful communication is, technology & all…

The story is in two parts. The first commences with hearing voices. Communication between the planet & the spaceship. Some of the speakers then appear. Soon, Kowalski takes to telling stories, which he apparently had told before. People remember each other, it seems. Maybe the stories will get people’s minds off the danger; or explain why the man has chosen to return to space.

Communication breaks down as the attack is underway. The second part commences when the woman, alone, has to strive to survive. Talking now is mostly talking to herself. Making oneself understood, or understanding others, now becomes impossible. Ryan has a lot of figuring out to do, but knowledge is obviously discounted. Science specifically is under attack: Science gives power, to protect man from death. This is false pacifism. There is a suggestion of war, indeed, but immediately, the problem is the impossibility to predict motion, which is connected to the inability to move purposively.

Of course, the scientific understanding of motion might not have anything to do with how these people understand motion. From their point of view, death may come as an accident. Science calls that the laws of physics. Similarly, they may care for their lives, but the laws of physics cannot. We watch the screamless void when the disaster happens. What can we do but watch?

The woman is not an astronaut. Space, a kind of death, is the alternative to a life not worth living. Her daughter died in what she calls a stupid thing. Perhaps children’s play could be abolished to make people safe. Unpredictable motion reveals human fragility. In space, the woman has to learn to move. Wanting to resist motion is useless. After the girl’s death, she kept driving whenever she did not have to work or sleep, having received the news driving. Motion in that sense is change, losing everything. Behold astrophysics: It is strange to see how much Kowalski loves space. But breaking records is trespassing limits, which turns out to be deadly.

Ryan learns to fight for her life, the goodness of which she must have been doubting. This requires a return to the planet where she can live. Her turn to religion only makes sense if modern science cannot solve the problem of motion for human beings. Far from a trap, the world is the place where life can find meaning.

Alfonso Cuaron’s new movie, & 2013’s most surprising success for American cinema.