SPOILER ALERT: This essay discusses significant plot lines of the film Gravity.
“I am working on a large composition. Don’t you know that this demands one’s whole personality, and that one is often so deeply immersed in it, that it is as if one were dead to the outside world? Now imagine a work of such scope that the whole world actually is reflected in it—one becomes, so to speak, only an instrument upon which the universe plays…”
The composer Gustav Mahler, letter to a friend describing his Third Symphony.
Four-and-a-half years. When was the last time you devoted this much blood, sweat, and tears of Time to a creative project? This does happen. And all of thosewho have seen the film Gravity can attest to Mahler’s statement of the universe “playing through the instruments” of its filmmakers.
The dynamics of the universe’s play can be studied through the lens of Archetypal Astrology. Through this lens, as well as esoteric studies, mystical thought, and transpersonal psychology, we can holistically investigate the technological prowess, thematic depth, and socio-cultural commentary of this monumental film.
The Birth Chart of Gravity
Anything which is born has a birth chart—human, animal, business, country, and work of art. But when is the appropriate time and date to attribute to a film, since it undergoes so many processes—the writing, the beginning of production, the release? Just as we look towards the first breath of life to calculate a birth chart, it is the film’s public release date which signifies its imprint into the collective consciousness.
That being said, since a film does take so much time to complete and ripples out for many years after its release, it is important to consider the longer term transits of the outer planets, which represent the unfolding development of the collective psyche. “Planets” represent god-like forces of consciousness or intelligence within all of us.
During the film’s release on October 4th, 2013, the planets we will address were in their following celestial positions.
Jupiter in Cancer
Neptune in Pisces
Chiron in Pisces
Saturn conjunct the North Node in Scorpio Uranus in Aries square Pluto in Capricorn
The Filmmaker’s Charts
Before fully probing the collective transits upon the film’s release, we can receive much astrological insight by first studying the charts of its filmmakers. Gravity was written by father and son team Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron. Alfonso has stated, “It was just two writers working together….” It is almost unheard of to have father and son produce a film together. In the initial outtakes of the film, Jonas shared that he was easily bored and pushed his dad to move the film’s action faster and let the audience connect emotionally through action. In this teamwork, we see some of the prominent themes of the Uranus-Pluto archetypal complex: notably, the empowerment of the youth, commonly experienced as revolutionary movements, which we’ve seen in the current cycle’s Mid-East and Wall Street protests, the 1960‘s riots and protests, and the French Revolution of the 1680‘s, all of which occurred during a hard aspect (0, 90, or 180 degree) angle between Uranus and Pluto.
At the time of the film’s release, Jonas was 30 years old and thus completing the Saturn Return. Through severe discipline and steady focus, the Saturn Return affords an opportunity to make a distinct statement to the world. The trials and tests of this initiation (28-30 years old) can solidify our identity in the outer world, as we define, carve out, and commit to our role in the collective. Oprah Winfrey began her Oprah Winfrey show at this age. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed during his Saturn Return, and Jack Kerouac’s seminal Beat classic On the Road went on to inspire multiple generations of vagabond spirits shortly after its completion during Kerouac’s Saturn Return. In addition, the Saturnian archetype of the elder and of society reflects the connection of Jonas to his father in helping him accomplish his newfound identity as a supreme filmmaker.
Additionally, Alfonso Cuaron began this project during his Chiron return, one of the most significant initiatory transits of life. This cycle unveils wounds in the soul which must be addressed in order to shift our life’s work to a higher octave of purpose. At this phase of life, we choose whether to identify more strongly as a victim or to realize the medicine in our wounds—the gifts which we may offer back to others in the very same arenas in which we felt pain. Michael Jackson was found dead during his Chiron return, while Eckhart Tolle released the classic statement on the gift of ultimate presence: The Power of Now.
Importantly, both filmmakers have stressed that adversity, and how we relate to it, is one of the primary themes of the film. Anyone above the age of 30 can attest to the initiatory challenges and frustrations which often accompany the Saturn Return, and the Chiron return’s awareness of the primal suffering of life compels us to learn the delicate art of mentorship and guidance for others.
Our relationship to technology—its advancement and its consequences for humanity—is a consistent theme that follows the dynamic aspects of Uranus and Pluto in the sky. Each time that the planet of innovation and invention, Uranus, blends with the planet of empowerment and the unconscious, Pluto, we witness works of art that specifically address changing technologies, while simultaneously utilizing paradigm shifting tools to tell their stories.
Under the last major Uranus-Pluto aspect, a conjunction during the 1960‘s, the age of space exploration was really just beginning. There was an excitement about what might be possible in our future amongst the stars. It was under this fervor for the potential discoveries of space that science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was conceived, created, and released. The film’s breathtaking and unprecedented photography of space, the interiors of spaceships, and overall theme of sentient and increasingly intelligent machines set a new paradigm for science-fiction storytelling.
If we return to a previous Uranus-Pluto cycle, we arrive at the late 20’s and early 30’s square between the two planets. Paradigm-shifting technology erupted from this age which we now take for granted, including the first sound films, the first animated films, and the first transnational flight, all of which have been necessary for space exploration and films about this concept.
Gravity uses the common effects of today’s films—3D and IMAX—in arguably one of the most appropriate uses—to simulate the experience of anti-gravity and space flight. But in order to do this, Alfonso Cuaron’s filmmaking team also had to follow the Uranus-Pluto theme of innovation, as new technology had to be invented to accomplish such mindblowing, unprecedented feats as a seventeen-minute opening shot and constant portrayal of zero-gravity.
It wasn’t only the new technology, but also the application of previous technology in unorthodox (Uranian) ways; this achieved an affect of titanic proportion and total immersion (Pluto) so that the audience feels themselves as just another one of the astronaut team.
To simulate flotation for the entire film, at various times, the actors found themselves in a small light box, attached to a clamp, strapped to an office chair on a hydraulic system, and suspended on bicycle seats. According to Bullock, it was more like being in a circus (crazy and bizarre Uranus territory) than a film. The Plutonian underworld of very uncomfortable environments, annoying gear, and incredibly long shots challenged the actors to their limits to perform in a completely different way with this new set of tools.
Another technological consideration is the actual subject of the film’s adversity—the space junk and debris created by humans. This demonstrates the possible destructive ramifications of irresponsible use of technology.
Even in terms of funding, huge risks (Uranus) had to be undertaken as Warner Bros. allowed the film’s budget to soar to $100 million without seeing a single frame until six months after filming was complete. It paid off as the film earned the most money ever on an opening weekend for an October release. We should consider the expansive effect of Jupiter’s opposition to Pluto and square to Uranus for both the size of the risks taken as well as the amount of money earned by the film
To Jupiter’s amplifying, spiritual, and ethical effects, we can also attribute the sheer grandeur, awe, and scope displayed in each scene, in the hyperbolic tension, in the magnification of earth as backdrop for many scenes, in the question of faith, and in the moral decisions by characters to sacrifice one life over another and to trust in a higher plan.
From Evolution to Rebirth
Actor George Clooney has stressed that the film focuses on a woman both coming to terms with her own death, as well as her own life. Over the course of the movie, we discover that there is a type of Uranian epiphany that can only truly happen when faced with our own Plutonian annihilation.
There is a riveting scene in which Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone barely avoids disaster and arrives at the space station. Upon entering the small capsule, she strips down from her bulky astronaut gear and floats weightless. Her position here is cradled, infantile, a fetus in the womb.
Suddenly, the cold mechanism of spacesuit and space itself gives way to the humanity pulsing just beneath. Behind her the capsule door’s shape and light insinuate an all-seeing eye. For a moment we can feel like we are floating in a gigantic replica of an eye’s interior, wires like nerves strewn everywhere.
Stone is now beginning to see the choice: by coming to terms with her own possible death, she can now truly choose her life, and thus initiate her own rebirth.
Our relationship to birth, death, the process of rebirth, and extraterrestrial life in the universe is one of the most powerful themes of our day. The conglomeration of outer planets in water signs has opened us up to the empathic field of spirit and soul, most recently awoken by the Grand Water Trine of Summer 2013 with Jupiter/Saturn/Neptune which gave way this fall to Jupiter in Cancer, Saturn in Scorpio, and Chiron in Pisces, all active during the film’s release.
The Grand Water Trine:
SATURN in SCORPIO, CHIRON in PISCES, and JUPITER in CANCER:
The Wounded Healer and The Orphaned Parent
In my book Aquarius Dawns, I explored the emerging archetype of the Wounded Healer in film, often depicted as an orphan, exile, or half-breed who transmutes his/her curses or challenges into magical gifts and superpowers. Films like Avatar, Harry Potter, the slew of superhero films like Iron Man and Spider Man, and many others reflect this theme.
A twist on this idea has been emerging in the films of the 2010’s, which signifies the loss of a child to a parent, thus the parent becoming orphan or wounded healer. 2013 Academy Award Best Picture Argo, contemplative science-fiction film Another Earth, riveting indie film about the woes of technology Disconnect, and Gravity all reflect this theme. It could be argued that films dealing with the motif of losing a child connect us with the horrifying tragedies of school and youth shootings in the last few years, especially in the United States.
Whether through the loss of a child in death or being sent away from a child via forced abandonment, these films demand that we heed Saturn and the North Node in Scorpio’s decree to confront both our own death and the mortality of those we care for.
By directly facing our primal fears, and perhaps the greatest of all in our culture—our eventual bodily death—we actually gain more power to live each breath with fullness and precious gratitude. In addition, our relationship to mortality is an alchemical cauldron where we choose to identify either as victim or as healer. We are realizing that the ultimate healing arises in the decision to fully embrace life and its shadow half—the mystery of death and the realization that energy (Spirit) can neither be destroyed nor created, but only shapeshift its form.
NEPTUNE IN PISCES – Alpha and Omega
Angelic Visitation: The Daimon and the Higher Self
A fundamental revelation of the emerging Aquarian Age, of Uranus in Aries, and of Neptune and Chiron in Pisces is that we are not alone.
The current scientific discoveries of thousands of exoplanets and the possibility of at least one orbiting planet for every one of the eight billion sun-like stars in just the Milky Way hints at the unfathomable Galactic family teeming all around us. In addition, in recent years, many medical doctors have joined the ranks of authors discussing the validity and specifics of the near-death experience and its series of light tunnels, life-reviews, visionary realms, and encounters with spirit guides.
In all of the most poetic and profound films, of which Gravity is one, no shot is left unattended to. Each frame reveals information and possible layers of meaning. If you notice the moment when Dr. Ryan Stone crawls into a space suit on one of the space stations, she puts on a uniform with the Russian name of Demidov on the name tag. If we break this name down into its parts, we see the prefix “demi” for demon or daimon, and the suffix “dov,” which can be interpreted as “of the….”, thus, “of the daimon.” We can also see the word “dove” connoting the Holy Spirit, the messenger of the Christian tradition.
As I spoke about in Aquarius Dawns, one of the facets of the Wounded Healer’s awakening process is to cultivate a necessary relationship to its higher self, which has been variously called the Guide, the Spirit Guide, the Daena, and the Daimon, the latter a term of common usage in Plato’s time. In fact, the word “demon,” came about as Christians tried to separate God and humans without any other intermediary forces. Thus the positive, pagan concept of the daimonic living spirit in many of nature’s forests, creatures, and synchronistic events, became relegated to “demonic” acts of the devil.
Amidst shots of an Orthodox Russian Christ and a Chinese Buddha, Dr. Stone confesses that she doesn’t know how to pray. Then, the visitation with the spirit of fellow astronaut Matt Kowalsky gives her the confidence and push she needs to not only choose her rebirth, but the vision itself is a message from her higher self on how to survive and why it is vital that she does. It is both a healing for her and a direct portal into the spirit world.
The Psychonaut and the Astronaut
The parallels between Dr. Ryan Stone’s journey as an astronaut in Gravity and the modern day psychedelic explorer, or psychonaut, are quite instructive on the emotional and psychospiritual processes unfolding in the collective. While the Aquarian Age promises more individual choice in our reality matrices, Neptune and Chiron in Pisces continues to blur realities, opening our consciousness to other dimensions, with the spread of indigenous plant-based shamanism, with the Amazonian Ayahuasca brew, Mushrooms, Peyote, and San Pedro cactus, as well as the increased ease of access to and actual experiences with a whole new pharmacopoeia of psychedelic compounds, including lab-produced disassociatives, tryptamines, cannabinoids, empathogenics, and phenylethylenes.
Likewise, with Chiron in Pisces sextile Pluto in Capricorn (2011-2015) and trine Saturn in Scorpio (2012-2013), the shamanic and psychedelic journey into the depths of our soul continues to be empowered by mentors, coaches, and guides to the Underworld. We are empowered (Pluto) by our commitment to dedicate and discipline (Saturn in Scorpio) our access to our unconscious and multidimensional selves.
With the Uranus-Pluto square (2010-2016), Uranus excites and awakens the Plutonian urge to lift the veil between ours and other worlds, while Pluto empowers the Uranian epiphanies, revelations, and insights which can occur if we boldly venture into the profound mystery of the unknown. As in the film, psychedelic and consciousness exploration requires us to not only take risks on our journey towards wholeness but to also make discoveries about our true nature, as we rebirth and transform into a completely new, unparalleled awareness.
A relentless faith emerges upon the willingness to undergo this harrowing process, hearkening to the connection of spiritual teacher Jupiter in Cancer in a T-square to Uranus and Pluto.
Dr. Stone is actually having a psychedelic or mind-manifesting experience. Her reality is being formed by the thoughts that she has about it, and she realizes this has been the case since her daughter’s unfortunate death. She is manifesting the contents of her living experience, just as a psychonaut or modern shaman who uses medicines to alter consciousness must realize the very Buddhist teaching that all visions are just extensions of our own minds, and nothing can truly harm us.
In a way, Gravity repeats 2001: A Space Odyseey, which may have subtly addressed the new frontiers of human consciousness probed by the 1960’s use of LSD and the concurrent forays into multidimensional self-awareness through Stanislav Grof’s LSD Psychotherapy and Holotropic Breathwork.
THE ESOTERIC LAYERS
Themes of the Piscean and Aquarian Ages
As the final sign of the zodiac, Pisces culminates all of the archetypal energies which have come before. It is the sign of the mythmaker and storyteller, and the sign we most associate with film.
With Neptune and Chiron in Pisces during this decade of the 2010’s , both our collective origins and potential catastrophic demise have become dominant arenas of film and video game story arcs. How we mentor, coach, and guide others through this collective process of death and rebirth has been one of the major themes of films since Neptune moved into Pisces in 2011. Consider the number of apocalyptic and dystopian releases: World War Z, Elysium, Hunger Games, Melancholia, After Earth, The Host, Oblivion, Ender’s Game, and many others, while 2012’s Prometheus considered the theme of both humanity’s origins and demise.
Gravity also tackles the possibility of catastrophic ends and enlightening awakenings through its images and themes, and thus subtly addresses the ending of the Piscean Age and beginning of the Aquarian Age.
There are distinctly Piscean images in the film—the earth as a unified whole and artistic masterpiece, the curled up, fetal position of Stone after she’s landed safe in the “womb” of the ship, and the submerging into earth’s nourishing water.
But there are also images and motifs that directly address the challenges of the emerging Aquarian Age—the remnants of technology’s debris catapulting towards the astronauts, the repeating sense of isolation and detachment experienced in the repeating phrase, “Houston in the Blind,” as well as the indelible images of alienation with Dr. Stone somersaulting backwards into space and astronaut Matt Kowalsky drifting into the eternal nothingness of the void.
And yet, a poignant scene involves Dr. Stone finding a radio frequency that connects her to another earthling, to the binding Aquarian quilt of humanity through Aquarian communications technology.
The Chakras, Kundalini, The Ascent of Spirit and Descent of Soul
In Gravity, the audience is repeatedly confronted with the primal energies of the elements. These symbols describe the descent of the Soul and the ascent of the Spirit—motifs found in Gnostic Christianity and in the awareness of kundalini, the chakras, and our elemental nature.
In the teachings of the chakras, there are dual kundalini serpents—the ida and pingala—constantly coiling and unfurling along the spine and the energetic pathway of the sushumna—our central channel of prana and life force energy. The dual serpents are depicted in the image of the caduceus and also signify the dual movement of the shaman—ascending into the upperworlds and descending into the lowerworlds.
The ascending, upward, and masculine movement–the pingala–is the embodied flesh aspect of ourselves choosing to return to our Source, to that which came before and is Beyond.
The descending serpent–the sanskrit ida–represents the desire to separate from Source, to discover individuality, to fulfill karmic necessity which is stored in the deep memory of the Soul. In esoteric traditions, this is the feminizing force of Matter, and this was known in Gnostic Christianity as the Sophia.
We know that Dr. Stone, who has never traveled to space before, has left the solid earth to travel to the ethers of outer space. She has come to apply new technology that will allow humanity to peer into the farthest edges of the Universe. In essence she seeks to expand our vision of the cosmos to gain knowledge of “all that exists.” Her journey begins as the rising ida serpent of the kundalini, the Spirit returning to its Source, which we could also say is “Apollonian” in nature.
Referring to the Greek god Apollo, Apollonian consciousness, as a philosophical or literary term, is directed towards accomplishment, achievement, reason, order, and nobility. The Apollonian is based on individuality, and the human form which is used to represent the individual and make one being distinct from all the others. It celebrates human creativity through reason and logical thinking. By contrast, the Dionysian is based on chaos and appeals to the emotions and instincts. Dionsyian experience and awareness pries open the irrational, the raw, and the sensual states of being as the barriers to individuality are broken down and beings submerge themselves in one whole.
This is the downward movement of the pingala serpent and this is the process that Stone will have to endure—the feminizing movement towards earth in an embrace of the sensual and emotional. One of the most interesting moments in the film literally depicts this when Dr. Stone shapeshifts like the shaman for a moment—she returns to her primal, animal self by howling like a wolf.
With the above understanding, we also receive clues into why the characters have the names they do. First, our protagonist is Ryan Stone, a bizarre name for a lead female character. Stone’s daughter, who dies in a freak accident years before, is named Sarah. Whether or not this was intended by the filmmakers, mother and daughter have royal names. Ryan is the Irish for “little king,” and Sarah, the Hebrew for Princess. Stone could be a triple entendre:
The “stone-cold” scientific approach she begins the film with and replacing her heart with a “stone” upon the death of her daughter.
Stone is also the gift of the weight of gravity.
The Philosopher’s Stone – This supreme goal of alchemy was sought after for centuries by alchemists and royalty throughout the world as a mythical substance that can turn base metals into gold, that could cure all diseases, and that could act as a secret elixir of immortality. In reality, the “stone” was never a physical substance, but actually a symbol for enlightenment and the merger of both Spirit and Soul.
Dr. Stone is an alchemist on the journey of self-realization, of acknowledging and honoring her “Soul.” This is the descent of the Creator into form and is symbolically depicted through the elements and the chakras.
The Five Elements
The Bible begins with this phrase: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh.” Gravity depicts the journey of incarnation as Dr. Stone is tossed about in the ETHERS of The Void, in the unfathomable realms of the Crown and Ajna chakras, as she must begin to use her intuition and synthesize it with her intellect.
Following this, the element of AIR becomes a dominant theme as the primal quality of life—breathing—is stressed again and again. Stone is told to breathe more slowly and nearly loses all oxygen. This recounts the healing modality of Rebirthing Breathwork, which opens us up to the primal wounds around our birth trauma and the moments of first breath.
Subsequently, Stone must ignite the machine and return to earth. We witness the scathing incandescence of the small capsule on FIRE, which she must guide back to earth. The “trial by fire” is described in all mystical, religious, and alchemical texts and shamanic traditions as fundamental to an initiation into spiritual experience. It also refers to the process of Calcination in alchemy, where all the unrefined elements of our humanity are burned down to ash so that only the pure essence remains.
Upon traversing the atmosphere, Stone lands in WATER, returning us to where life first emerged from: Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles. She is in the alchemical process of Dissolution—the return of consciousness to its total phylogenetic memory through all species and all of evolution. This kind of interspecies and epigenetic memory often occurs for those in deep holotropic breathwork states or in transformative psychedelic journeys.
The experience of evolution and incarnation culminates with the first feeble walk of feet upon solid ground as Stone sets her shaky limbs upon the EARTH. She is a young toddler or an animal freshly reborn, now learning how to walk on her own, digging down into Mother Earth through her Root chakra. She is the gnostic Sophia—the “wisdom of the Creator” spiraled down the kundalini serpent as the embodied Soul. She has chosen LIFE.
Instead of birthing the savior child as may be depicted in Piscean age stories, Ryan Stone must save herself through a self-initiated process of rebirth. This is the essence of gnostic teachings and the movement into the Aquarian Age—that the Christ-light is within each of us, that we must directly experience our own salvation and ascension. The preciousness of this human rebirth, stress Tibetan Buddhists, is the opportunity in this life to awaken. As Gravity reminds us, it is our profound test in life to seize this jeweled moment to enlighten ourselves, to merge Spirit and Soul, masculine and feminine, into that conjoined whole—the bodhisattva prepared to courageously serve all sentient beings.