Okay, so movie reviews aren’t my usual thing. Well, don’t worry, this is not a movie review. I’ll go ahead and say SPOILER ALERT, which isn’t really needed. I don’t give anything away, but if you want to see the movie without any inkling of what it’s about (other than what I just gave away in the poster) then cease reading here and come back later. For the most part, this is a genre discussion.
Alfonso Cuaron’s new movie GRAVITY came out this weekend. I just saw it and I confess, as much as I love Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN, come on!), I was reluctant to see this one. I take issue with Man versus Nature stories. Ever since being forced to read “To Build a Fire” in grade school, I’ve shivered at the thought of the futility of man in the face of the great big insert-here (world, universe, everything).
So, a movie about two astronauts trying to survive in the vaccum of space? Kind of awful. I just think of Jack London’s protagonist and those damned matches. And then I think of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” and those damned matches and it makes me want to stay home forever in footie pajamas by a warm fire with a cup of cocoa.
The thing is, Man versus Nature is such a stripped down format, but it’s so darned effective. It’s just Man (or Woman or Child) with nothing more than the clothes on their back– if they’re lucky– and maybe one or two not-so-impressive tools. And then there’s Nature, red in tooth and claw, with all of her glory suddenly gone not-so-glorious for said Man/Woman/Child. What more do you need? These stories are about tension, hope and hopelessness, and digging deep for the will to live.
It gives me a stomach ache.
So, SPOILER ALERT (again, not really, unless, etc.)
What’s impressive about GRAVITY is the way the ante, which is already literally sky high, gets upped, and upped along the way. “The Little Match Girl” and “To Build a Fire” are short stories. They both have one villain, manifested in one simple way– the cold gets colder. In GRAVITY, there’s more than one way to die.
So, I’m sitting in the theater with my stomach clenched and my feet flexing at the ankles, like I’m trying to pump the brakes from the passenger seat and I come out of the theater more stonyfaced than entertained (appreciative of the effects, the camera choices, my belief in Cuaron as one of the most talented, thoughtful directors of our time, yes) and it occurs to me: I wrote ORLEANS. And I’ve been told that its given some readers the same tension tummy. And yes, it is in some respects a Man versus Nature story in which there are many ways to die.
What was I thinking? So, this is my apology for making any of you guys feel oogie while reading ORLEANS. Hopefully it will stay with you, the way Andersen’s and London’s stories did with me. It’s funny how what you read as a child influences what you write as an adult. It’s also interesting to create something I considered “fun!” (ORLEANS, to me, is dark, difficult, but a romp with a badass heroine aka “fun!”) from a place of childhood fear.
Maybe I should write something set in space? Truly, just the thought makes me cold. Which probably means it’s worth looking into.
Hey, don’t forget, I’m at the Teen Book Fest on Saturday, 10/12/13 at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Come on by and say hello!