Every now and then, the world of popular culture spectacularly overrates something lame. This past year furnished two great examples: Robin Thicke’s ultra-boring “Blurred Lines” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” which is up for ten Oscars despite being an extended video-game cut-scene. It appears that only two people in the world didn’t like “Gravity”: Richard Brody—who wrote that the movie’s most dangerous vacuum is its “absence of ideas”—and me. Like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the two of us are apparently linked together, drifting apart from the rest of humankind.
I’ve been unable to let my dislike of “Gravity” go, and so, the other day, I found myself arguing about the movie with some friends in a bar. They claimed, correctly, that “Gravity” was visually astounding; I replied that its story was predictable (of course she’s going to survive!) and that its dialogue was absurd (“Tell her that Momma found her red shoe”). Then an idea arrived from nowhere, as though delivered by an imaginary spaceman: someone should replace the “Gravity” soundtrack with “The Dark Side of the Moon.” That would be entertaining, maybe.
I tried it this morning—and I’m happy to report that it succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I recommend trying this for yourself, and finding your own correspondences. In the meantime, you’ll find my notes below.
0:15 “Gravity” opens with some scary text: “No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.” Meanwhile, “Dark Side” begins with a thumping heartbeat, maniacal laughter, and a woman screaming “Aaaaaahhhh! Aaaaaahhhh!”
2:28: The space shuttle glides into view. “Breathe, breathe in the air,” David Gilmour tells the astronauts, before warning them, “You race toward an early grave”!
4:05: “On the Run,” the album’s psychedelic electronic freakout, begins. Astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) floats beside a space gizmo, fiddling with knobs and playing the keyboard (just like David Gilmour in this video). Everything’s spinning—it’s a space rave!
5:50: “Here today, gone tomorrow,” an Englishman says. “Muahahahaha!”
8:15: Guess what’s running out? “Time”! Houston warns, “Mission abort!”—but, despite the incoming space junk, the oblivious astronauts continue to “fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.”
11:15: Probably my favorite guitar solo of the nineteen-seventies.
11:30: Houston tells Astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) to “expect a communications blackout at any moment.” Guess where else those happen?
12:35: Now everything’s being destroyed by rogue space debris. As Stone whirls around and around, attached to a giant space boom, Gilmour sings about the sun (it’s “racing around to come up behind you again!”) and points out that, with every minute, she is “shorter of breath, and … closer to death!”
13:15: As Stone tumbles off into empty space, Gilmour sings, “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” To calm herself, Stone recalls her routines on Earth: when she comes home, cold and tired, she likes to warm her bones beside the fire.
14:44: “The Great Gig in the Sky,” Pink Floyd’s wordless meditation on the inevitability of death, begins. Bathed in the sun’s orange glow, Stone realizes that it’s O.K. if she dies. “I’m not afraid of dying,” a man says. “Anytime will do, I don’t mind. You’ve got to go sometime.”
17:40: Kowalski arrives to rescue Stone, and they embrace, spinning around to jazzy organ music.
19:15-25:00. As “Money” begins, Stone and Kowalski return to the thoroughly destroyed Space Shuttle—going by NASA’s figures, it probably cost about two billion dollars to build.
26:00: The pacifist anthem “Us and Them” plays as Stone and Kowalski, still tethered together, drift toward the International Space Station, a symbol of global coöperation. On Earth, everyone is so nationalistic; here in space, “we’re only ordinary men.”
29:41: Stone and Kowalski crash into the I.S.S. and start whirling around. Describing both “Gravity” and our materialistic society, Gilmour sings: “Up and down—but, in the end, it’s only round and round.”
32:00: As Kowalski lets go of their tether in an effort to save Stone, a sax solos mournfully. “Down and out,” Gilmour sings. “It can’t be helped, but there’s a lot of it about.” Kowalski drifts away. “The old man died,” Gilmour reports.
33:18: No time to dwell! Stone must get inside the I.S.S. immediately. She shakes her head to clear it. “Out of the way, it’s a busy day,” Gilmour sings. “I’ve got things on my mind!”
34:00: Stone clambers around the outside of the I.S.S. as the psychedelic guitar instrumental “Any Colour You Like” begins. Because of a remark Henry Ford is supposed to have made about the Model-T—“You can have it in any color you like, as long as it’s black”—Pink Floyd fans have long believed this song to be about the false choices offered by consumer society. But it could also be about being marooned in space.
37:20: “Brain Damage” begins—and so does Stone’s crack-up. As she makes her way into the I.S.S., she imagines that she’s back on Earth, “on the grass.” She escapes from her spacesuit and curls into the fetal position, determined to shut out reality. This is not happening, she thinks, as Roger Waters sings, “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”
41:11: Stone descends deeper into madness as she makes her way to the I.S.S.’s control room. “I think it’s marvellous,” a man says, of being lost in space. “Hahahahaha!” Stone puts on headphones and starts talking to herself (or maybe listening to Pink Floyd’s “Marooned”). Roger Waters sings about everything that she’s left behind on Earth—“all that you eat, and everyone you meet.” The camera pans to a window and pauses: there’s the Earth, surrounded by the blackness of space. Stone’s expressionless face is reflected in the glass. It’s the end of “Dark Side”; on the soundtrack, we hear only her heartbeat.
43:00: iTunes shuffles to Lorde. Mission abort!
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures.
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