Movie Structure Breakdown: Gravity

gravityFormat: Movie

Released: 2013

Written By: Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón

Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

Run Time: 84 minutes

Character: Dr. Ryan Stone

ACT ONE: DEALING WITH AN IMPERFECT SITUATION

A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Dr. Ryan Stone is a first-time astronaut who is struggling in space (the imperfect situation) dealing with a lack of gravity and the subsequent nausea (oppressive opposition) as she tries to fix a piece of equipment on the Hubble Telescope (the initial goal). But when the Russians shoot down a derelict spy satellite (the disturbance), Stone is detached from the shuttle and must decide whether she will succumb to her fate or take action (the dilemma) and become a space disaster survivor (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Dr. Ryan Stone is uncomfortable in space and struggles to fight through it. She’s also sad because her daughter died in a freak accident.

Initial Goal: When the film begins, Stone is in the process of fixing the thingamabob on the Hubble telescope.

Oppressive Opposition: The title card tells us, “Life in space is impossible.” Simply being in space is oppressive. It is the main antagonist to their mission up to this point.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: The Russians destroy a spy satellite, proving that even in a movie without a tangible antagonist, Hollywood can still find a way to blame the Russians.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 12 of 84 minutes (14.2%) – It is announced that debris from a destroyed satellite is en route to the shuttle. When the debris field reaches the shuttle, it puts a satisfying end to Shariff’s Macarena dancing, and sends an untethered Dr. Stone tumbling off into space. 

Weeee!
“Weeee!”

Now she must choose between being a victim of circumstance (as she has long felt she is), or becoming a survivor.

The New Role: If she decides to fight for survival, Stone will become a space catastrophe survivor. Or something.

Act Run Time: : 17 of 84 minutes (20.2%)

ACT TWO: LEARNING THE RULES OF AN UNFAMILIAR SITUATION

The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 17 of 84 minutes (20.2%)

Stone has to survive being untethered in space (the unfamiliar situation) and overcome her initial panic over her catastrophic situation (incidental opposition) to make it back to the ship (the transitional goal). But when she and Matt discover the crew has been killed and the shuttle is destroyed (the reality check), they resolve to travel to the ISS to secure a new ride home (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Dr. Stone is untethered and floating through space, which I don’t believe has ever happened to any human being in the history of human beings.

Transitional Goal: Stone and Matt attempt to get back to the safety of the ship.

Incidental Opposition: Stone is separated from the shuttle and the rest of the crew. Once Matt saves her, she is still freaked out by her situation. They soon discover the corpse of Shariff and learn their ride home has been obliterated.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: Matt and Stone come across Shariff who is too preoccupied with being dead to be of assistance. The Explorer is in even worse shape than he is.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 22 of 84 minutes (26.1%) – Our two attractive leads discover they are the only survivors. Fitting. Seeing the shuttle is destroyed, Matt tells Stone they will travel through the expanse to the ISS and use its Soyuz’s to return to Earth. 

I'm gonna level with you. One of us is probably going to die.
“I’m gonna level with you. We’re probably gonna to die.”

They have no choice but to commit to their New Role of space catastrophe survivors and face the Central Conflict created by space and the returning debris field.

Act Run Time: 7 of 84 minutes (8.3%)

ACT THREE: STUMBLING INTO THE CENTRAL CONFLICT

The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: 24 of 84 minutes (28.5%)

Stone must come to terms with her will to survive (the central conflict) in the face of the returning debris field and her depleted oxygen supply (intentional opposition) as she and Matt travel to the ISS to use its Soyuz to return to Earth (false goal). But when Matt’s jetpack runs out of juice, they nearly overshoot the ISS and he has to separate himself from Stone (the turn) for her to survive and board the ISS (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: Stone faces off with space and her will to live. How far is she willing to go to survive? Also, Matt tells Stone to set her watch alarm for ninety minutes to mark the return of the debris field, establishing it as a recurrent form of antagonism.

False Goal: Matt and Stone attempt to reach the ISS and use the Soyuz to return to Earth.

Intentional Opposition: Matt explains that the debris field will return every 90 minutes. Despite the fact Stone is running low on oxygen, he insists she tell him her life story. When they overshoot the ISS, Matt deliberately untethers himself to save her. Stone makes it inside the ISS just as her oxygen supply runs out.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: Seeing he will pull Stone away from the ISS, Matt untethers himself and tells her to go on without him. She is now on her own.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 32 of 84 minutes (38%) – Stone watches Matt float away before she tumbles back into the station. Still in radio range, Matt tells her she needs to learn to let go. Though she is on the verge of running out of oxygen, with Matt’s direction she fights her way into the station and takes off her suit in dramatic fashion.

I think this might be a metaphor for something.
I think this might be a metaphor for something.

Now all alone, Stone makes the decision to carry on, and must fight her way through the derelict space station, space, and the returning debris field.

Act Run Time: 16 of 84 minutes (19%)

ACT FOUR: IMPLEMENTING A DOOMED PLAN

The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 40 of 84 minutes (47.5%)

Stone attempts to fly the ISS’s damaged Soyuz (the doomed plan) and is nearly burned up in a fire and pulverized by the debris field (self-inflicted opposition) while trying to reach the Chinese space station (the penultimate goal). But when she discovers the Soyuz is out of fuel she resolves to die (the lowpoint) until the spirit of Matt pops in and tells her exactly what she needs to do survive (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Flying the Soyuz to the Chinese station is not going to work out as neatly as Stone intends.

Penultimate Goal: Stone attempts to use the escape pod to fly to the Chinese station.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Stone wastes time trying to contact Matt to no avail. A fire breaks out while she’s slacking off. When she tries to extinguish it, she almost knocks herself unconscious.  She makes it to the Soyuz and releases it from the station only to get the craft tangled in the parachute cable. She has to go on a spacewalk to release the cables and almost loses her torque wrench. The debris field returns while she is out and about.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: When she discovers the Soyuz is out of fuel, Stone turns off all the life-support systems and resolves to die.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 62 of 84 minutes (73.8%) – Matt miraculously shows up and convinces her to go on living, before telling her how she can use the emergency landing engines to reach the Chinese station.

Matt returns
“Don’t worry, Sandra. The audience is just as confused by this as you are.”

Stone decides that she will not succumb to space and opts instead to live and stuff.

Act Run Time: 26 of 84 minutes (30%)

ACT FIVE: TRYING A LONGSHOT

The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 66 of 84 minutes (78.5%)

Stone has to use the Soyuz’s soft landing engines and a run-of-the-mill fire extinguisher to reach the Chinese station (the longshot), and must contend with her inability to dock the pod and the impending collapse of the station (the ultimate opposition) as she tries to use their Soyuz to return to Earth (the ultimate goal). But when the space station enters the atmosphere, and the Soyuz’s buttons are all in Chinese (all is lost), she manages to undock just in time and must wait helplessly as the pod plummets to Earth (the final push).

The Longshot: Stone attempts to use the soft landing engines on the Soyuz to reach the Chinese station, and then use their escape pod to return to Earth. To get from the Soyuz to the Chinese station, she has to use the propulsive gas of a fire extinguisher. 

Good thing I watched Wall-E
Good thing she watched Wall-E.

Ultimate Goal: Stone wants to get to the Chinese station and use their escape pod to return to Earth.

Ultimate Opposition: The Chinese station is on the verge of falling into Earth’s atmosphere. She can’t get the Soyuz all the way to the station, so she has to eject from the pod and use a fire extinguisher to propel herself. She nearly misses the station but catches the last possible handhold. Drama.

Once onboard the station, she realizes the buttons of their Soyuz are all in Chinese. Despite this, she manages to undock, and the craft falls to Earth in a fiery blaze which looks as if it may incinerate her at any moment. The parachute deploys and the pod crashes into a placid lake. An electrical fire fills the pod with smoke and Stone opens the hatch, flooding the pod and sinking it.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: The station is pulled back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and the escape pod’s buttons are all in Chinese. However, the movie gods are smiling down on Stone, and she manages to initiate the undocking protocol.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: 75 of 84 minutes (89.2%) – Stone accepts her fate as the Soyuz undocks. Surrounded by the debris of the space station, the pod burns through the atmosphere and Stone can only wait helplessly to see if she will live or die. When the pod hits the water, she is stuck inside as it sinks. She strips off her space suit and swims to the surface. Decompression sickness be damned.

Act Run Time: 15 of 84 minutes (17.8%)

ACT SIX: LIVING IN A NEW SITUATION

Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 81 of 84 minutes (96.4 %)

Stone returns to Earth, having fought for and earned her right to live. She emerges from the water a (presumably) changed person.

The New Situation: Stone gently swims to shore and watches the remains of the Chinese station fall to Earth before taking her first shaky steps on land. Cue epic music.

Act Run Time: 3 of 84 minutes (3.5%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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