I saw the movie "Gravity", by myself, a couple of hours ago. Coming out of the theater I had a hard time describing the state of mind it left me in. Here, a couple of hours later, is an attempt to say something about it.
This is one case where I feel it's a shame that imperfections in the physics detracted from the effect of the movie for the people who are sensitive to such things, although I loved Neil de Grasse Tyson's tweet: "The film #Gravity should be renamed 'Angular Momentum'". To be honest, I didn't notice the science flaws; I'll have to look up what they were when I get a chance. [Update: I just thought of something obvious; I did notice it at the time as well. Doesn't bother me; I think the movie earned it.]
While the struggle to survive was a powerful part of it, I didn't so much take away an inspirational message as a bunch of things I have yet to sort out. There was a perspective on humanity, which astronauts often speak of feeling when they see Earth from space. There was a sense of solitude that goes beyond loneliness, and the way that can be something people seek out but also extremely painful. I felt that the physical properties of space — the literally astronomical distances, the weightlessness, the physics between tethered people — somehow crystallized the emotions that were being invoked, in particular the feelings of loss.
Looking back at the storytelling, I'm seeing how important the first few minutes were. The action in those first minutes may have seemed routine, "procedural", but it was quietly accomplishing a lot more than character exposition. Those first few minutes gave us time to internalize the "physics" of the situation, maybe not 100% in the rigorous-science sense, but in the "game physics" sense. None of the emotions in the rest of the movie would work until we felt we were living in space too.
I think the audience's sense of immersion is an integral part of the movie, which is why I believe "Gravity" really has to be seen in a theater. It's the same reason I think Jurassic Park needs to be seen in the theater. That old CGI may seem like Saturday morning cartoons now, but a lot of us gasped when we saw our first "real" dinosaur.
Speaking of special effects, I wondered whether some of the scenes were shot in a zero-g plane.
These are my immediate thoughts, in the wee hours of the morning. I really hope I don't wake up tomorrow and decide I over-reacted, because right now I definitely feel like I am reacting.