Science Fiction Film & Television

Untethered technology in Gravity

Gender and spaceflight from science fact to fiction

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (1), 29–51.


At our current cultural and technological moment, both the iconic figure of the astronaut and the history of spaceflight are being expanded. We see this in Hidden Figures (2016) about the African-American women who worked for NASA as human computers during the 1960s space race and in the increasing visibility of female astronauts in sf film and television. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) features a woman stranded in space alone and it is her repeated act of untethering herself from (and with) technology that enables her to survive. In this way, Gravity defines a relationship between the female astronaut and technology that departs from the defining man-machine symbiosis in films like The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995) as well as in the masculine environment at NASA. This article uses textual analysis of Gravity in the context of these earlier narratives, the cultural and historical reception of astronaut representation, popular and critical discourse, and the film’s production contexts to argue that Gravity’s Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) character effectively reimagines the mythic figure of the astronaut by uniquely configuring her in a collaborative, professional relationship with the technologies of spaceflight.

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Author details

Palmer, Lorrie