This article is a highly detailed plot summary of Gravity.
At 600 km above planet Earth, the temperature fluctuated between +258 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit.
There was nothing to carry sound.
No air pressure.
Life in space was impossible.
The silence built to loud noise and the title was displayed before sudden silence and a shot of Earth from space. The Explorer Space Shuttle floated lazily 370 miles above the Earth’s surface. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski propelled above it, strapped into an experimental propulsion pack. He radioed his compliments down to Houston before regaling the control room with the story of his trip to Tijuana from when his wife left him while he was on his first spacewalk. Houston reminded him that most of the workers down on Earth heard about the story before congratulating Matt on his upcoming retirement: This would be his last spacewalk. As he zipped around in the propulsion pack, Matt took it all in.
Below him, two other astronauts worked on the shuttle. Shariff Dasari, a flight engineer, gleefully jumped around on his tether – thoroughly enjoying the weightlessness. Nearby, on the docked Hubble Space Telescope, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone diligently worked on repairing a faulty transmission card. Houston informed her that they are not receiving a signal before asking her to provide a new estimate on how long that the repairs should take: She needed sixty more minutes.
Matt zipped over to Ryan and asked her if he could be of some assistance. He playfully flirted with her, asking about her training and complimenting her blue eyes. Stone laughed and claimed that her eyes are brown. Kowalski lamented that he would not be breaking the record for the longest spacewalk before he retired which was a personal career ambition. Houston confirmed that Matt would fall shy of the current record, but Matt decided to take his mind off it by telling a story about his time in New Orleans while he assisted Ryan with unscrewing the panel. A bolt floated away from the structure and Matt hopped out after it with a safety tether catching him as the line went taut closing his hand around the floating bolt. Ryan apologized, claiming that she was used to a basement lab where things fell to the floor. Before Matt could complete his story, Houston sent an urgent message: The astronauts need to return to the shuttle immediately because a cloud of satellite debris was hurling right for them at over 50,000 miles per hour.
Matt fired his way back toward Shariff and the Explorer while Houston explained: A Russian satellite self-destructed and the resulting cloud of debris was hurling toward the shuttle which lied directly in it’s orbit. The debris hurled forward through space toward the shuttle as Matt turned around to recover Ryan. Just as he reached her, the first bits of the debris began to pepper the Explorer striking Shariff and sending him off into space and the only thing catching him was the tether. The storm of the debris ripped through the shuttle and destroyed the structure, sending Ryan off into the void. Matt, shielded by a large chunk of the structure continued issuing commands to Ryan insisting that she should detach herself from the structure or else be carried too far from the shuttle. Already, he could not see her anymore. Stone complied and released the strap only to be flung even further out into space.
Ryan quickly tumbled away through the vast expanse of space with no control over her movements which was the slightest one with the potential to leave her spinning out in space forever. Matt continued to radio instructions while she begged for assistance ordering her to give him any information that she could that could help him locate her position, but she was spinning too fast to observe her environment. As she started to slow down, Matt’s voice cut out and she was left floating forward, although she managed to see the International Space Station in the distance. Her oxygen was dropping dangerously low. Ryan panicked, breathing heavily and calling out despite not receiving a transmission. After a few tense moments of Stone desperately trying to signal with her light, her radio crackled to life. Matt, using his propulsion pack found her. He blasted forward, colliding with her and tethering her to him so he could tow her back to the shuttle. After recovering Ryan, he transmitted his radio message to Houston, but received no response. Ryan asked him what the point of radioing into the dark was and Matt simply said that just because they could not hear Control did not mean that Control could not hear them. It could just save their lives.
The duo began their return toward the shuttle when Matt saw a space suit floating below them – Shariff, removed from his shuttle tether as well. Matt guided the propulsion pack toward Shariff and ordered Ryan to grab him. Looking at Shariff, she saw that a chunk of debris ripped through his helmet – leaving a hole through his face through which she could see clean through. She looked away, noticing for the first time a laminated photo tethered to Shariff’s suit of his family down below.
Arriving at the wreckage of the shuttle, they saw that the hull was breached and the rest of the crew died from being exposed to the freezing vacuum of space. With life support running dry, Matt made their next move clear: They need to get to the International Space Station nearby. Doing some quick calculations, the pair determined that they had 90 minutes to get there before the debris cloud completed it's orbit around the planet and caught up to them again – bigger than before as it added more satellite debris as it destroyed the other satellites in it's path.
As Ryan continued to note her dwindling oxygen supply, Matt tried to calm her down by asking her about her normal life on Earth and if there was anyone thinking about her. Ryan proved evasive before Matt’s prodding resulted in a quieting confession: Years prior, her four year old daughter, Sarah had an accident on the school playground and died when she hit her head too hard. Stone revealed that every day after work at the hospital, she drove and listened to the radio to avoid thinking about it. Matt was startled, but did not respond and Ryan looked out at the Earth, lost in her own head.
The ISS pulled into view, but there are clear signs of structural damage from the debris strike. The pair noticed that one of the Soyuz re-entry modules of the ISS was gone. The crew abandoned the station. The other Soyuz was damaged in the debris strike, resulting in a parachute that was deployed and currently entangled around the station. Matt told her that while it could not bring them back to Earth, they could use it to get to a nearby Chinese space station, the Tiangong-1. Kowalski checked his propulsion pack: There are only two bursts left if they are lucky. At this time, Ryan's tank ran out of oxygen, but she had a small amount in her suit.
As their oxygen supplies began to bottom out, Matt fired the remaining bursts toward the ISS. As the two blasted forward, they struck the ISS and rolled forward tumbling away from one another. Ryan successfully caught on to the part of the ISS’s paneling, but Matt was not so lucky, bouncing off the paneling and out to space. Their connection tether snapped tight, ripping Ryan free of the ISS and dragging her out into space. As they are pulled out into space, Ryan’s leg caught on the parachute cords of the Soyuz module – keeping her attached to the ISS. But, Matt saw that the connection was tenuous at best. His momentum from continuous deceleration was going to pull her free and they would both die. Ryan realized that Matt was going to detach his suit from the connection tether and begged him not to, but Matt told her that she had to get back to the planet. He disconnected the tether and floated off.
As Ryan was propelled back toward the ISS by the disconnect, Matt continued to tell her what to do. Her space suit began blaring alarms. She had no oxygen remaining, only carbon dioxide. Kowalski instructed Ryan to climb up the side of the ISS to the airlock roughly 40 feet away and made her promise that she was going to make it. Instead, Stone claimed that she intended to take the Soyuz and retrieve him first. He told her that the ship sailed because he had too much of a head start on her and joked that he would hold the record for the longest spacewalk for a long time. Stone said that she would make it for him. Kowalski asked her if she was attracted to him, claiming that many women said that he had beautiful blue eyes. Stone said that he had beautiful blue eyes and Kowalski claimed that his eyes are brown. Kowalski told Stone that the Sun on the Ganges was beautiful. Ryan was now only breathing the carbon dioxide in her suit, causing her to lose consciousness. In her oxygen-deprived state, she reached out to Kowalski in an attempt to grab him with her vision distorted and her mental state slowing as she lost consciousness from hypercapnia. Ryan eventually was forced to jump into space toward the airlock and she barely reached it. She opened the airlock just in time and activated the decompression unit flooding the chamber with oxygen. She stripped her suit and breathed large gulps of air as she floated. She slowly curled into the fetal position and fell asleep, relieved to be alive.
After taking a few minutes to recover, Ryan started to make her way through the ISS. Despite the damage, the oxygen atmosphere was still intact. She passed by the sparking wires which ignited the balls of fire that floated through the pure oxygen environment. Ryan failed to notice this because she was too preoccupied to contact Kowalski. She quickly put on a headset and contacted Kowalski who was not responding. At first, she chastised him, claiming that now was the only time during the whole mission where he stopped talking, but she asked him to continue his Mardi-Gras Story, begging him to tell her what happened with the hairy guy. Kowalski still did not reply and she was forced to transmit to Houston that she was the sole survivor of the mission with Kowalski having apparently succumbed to carbon dioxide poisoning in his spacesuit. She looked somberly out the window at Earth so close yet so far away. However, it would seem that the ISS, her sanctuary may be her tomb. The sparks from the exposed wiring started a massive fire inside the ISS which was quickly engulfing the entire station, making her sanctuary a tomb. Ryan grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to fight the inferno, but the lack of gravity caused the extinguisher's recoil to push her into a wall, bruising and cutting her face. She lost consciousness for a moment as her blood dripped into space, but luckily was able to wake up and race past the fire, making it into the second Soyuz Capsule just in time as the inferno engulfed the node that she was in. Stone also took the fire extinguisher with her in case a blaze should erupt inside the Soyuz.
Ryan glanced at her watch and realized that she had seven minutes to escape the ISS before the debris completed another orbit and wiped the remainder of the station out. She fired the thrusters and the capsule lurched free away from the ISS before jerking to a stop suddenly. The parachute cables kept the Soyuz anchored to the ISS. She quickly dressed into a spare spacesuit and went outside the Zvezda Module and began releasing the parachute cables from the capsule as the debris strike arrived, blasting the ISS that deflected narrowly away from Ryan’s Soyuz. As the ISS was destroyed, Ryan scrambled back into the Soyuz and fired it away from the debris, remarking: "I hate space".
Ryan reset her watch to 90 minutes and began setting the Soyuz’s flight path up to line it up with the Chinese space station. When she pressed the fire button, she realized that she was out of fuel. Stone nearly had a breakdown after smacking the equipment, but eventually just stopped doing anything and wondered what to do. Having stayed in the capsule for some time and already suffering from hypercapnia, Stone began feeling dizzy from carbon dioxide poisoning, realizing that she would die unless she got help fast. Desperate for some sort of assistance, Stone tried to use the radio as a last resort, but only managed to stumble upon the frequency of a ham radio belonging to a Greenlandic fisherman who did not speak English. Stone at first believed it to be a person from the Chinese space station, but realized that he was calling from Earth after hearing his dogs barking. Stone gave up hope after she realized that the man could not understand her pleas. Wanting some sort of accompaniment, she asked him to make the dogs bark and after barking along with them, she broke down crying, claiming that she was going to die and knowing this terrified her. Ryan asked him to say a prayer for her as she was stuck in space and would be torn apart by the debris field with no one to know that she survived. However, when Stone heard the man cooing his baby with a lullaby, she remembered how she used to sing to her baby and realized that she wanted to die so there was no more pain over the loss of her child. Accepting that she would die, she turned the oxygen flow off to the cabin and turned the lights off for a painless suicide. Stone was slowly drifting to a deep sleep to succumb to oxygen deprivation when there was a knock on the door from an astronaut gesturing outside!
As she started to resist, he turned the handle and opened the hatch. Quickly swinging in, the astronaut plopped down beside her and removed his helmet. It was Matt! He grinned broadly, reactivating the oxygen flow to the cabin and told her that he beat the spacewalk record. Ryan asked him how he managed to get back to her and Matt explained: Having tinkered around with the propulsion pack, he managed to get a few more bursts out of it to guide him back her way. She told him that the fuel was all gone, but he pointed out that the capsule had re-entry rockets for landing. He told her that she could pilot her way to the station that way. Matt looked over everything and realized that she was trying to kill herself, telling her that losing a daughter made everything harder, but that was not a reason to want to die. He conceded that if she really wanted to give up, all of what she had to do was stay there shutting the air flow down once more. Delirious from hypoxia and barely able to speak, Stone asked him how he got there and he told her that it was "a hell of a story" before telling Ryan that "it was time to go home". She turned around to look at Kowalski only to see that he was gone, revealing that he was a hallucination resulting from severe oxygen deprivation. Ryan gasped back to consciousness, realizing that she was still alone. She reactivated the air flow to the cabin and as the oxygen levels rose, she began to recover remembering what her subconscious was trying to tell her by manifesting Kowalski: That the re-entry rockets ran on a separate fuel tank and she could still make it to Tiangong. With renewed determination, she fired the thrusters and shot off toward the Chinese station on momentum.
As the Soyuz capsule flew forward, Ryan saw that the station was greatly damaged by the debris and was sinking into the atmosphere. Stone also noticed that she would miss the station by several meters. Retrieving the fire extinguisher that she used to fight the fire on the ISS, she blasted the airlock open with pyrotechnics via explosive decompression and was thrown out into space. Using the fire extinguisher to propel herself toward the Chinese space station, she slammed into it and managed to hang on as Tiangong dropped faster through the Earth's atmosphere and began a rapid descent. The debris field reappeared in the distance, racing toward her as she began her climb to the airlock while the station began to break apart.
The debris strike slammed into the Chinese space station, shredding it and rapidly forcing the station out of it's orbit toward a re-entry. Ryan climbed into the airlock, determined to reach the Shenzou. She reached the capsule in time just as the station started to plummet through the upper atmosphere, 150 kilometers above planet Earth. Stone struggled to make sense of the symbols pressing random buttons to see if she could initialize the re-entry protocol. Luckily, because the Shenzou was pretty much like the Soyuz, she was able to piece together what she needed to allow the Shenzou to disengage it's locks and undock from the surrounding Tiangong as what was left of it hurled through the Earth's upper atmosphere 120 kilometers above planet Earth at over 25,000 feet per second. Ryan said a prayer to Matt and asked him to tell her daughter that she loved her and she was proud of her. She also told Houston over the radio that she had a newfound will to live and whether she lived or died, she was ready for whatever came her way.
The capsule exploded forward, taking the lead of the debris field as the station fell apart with each passing second erupting into lines of fire across the sky. Ryan closed her eyes and put the helmet to her spacesuit on. Tiangong continued breaking apart when the gravity took hold and dragged it down to the Earth's lower atmosphere, 70 kilometers above the surface. Luckily, the parachute was activated 10 kilometers above the surface, slowing the capsule and allowing it to land gently in a lake of water somewhere in the American Southwest.
The capsule hit the water and floated for a moment with the radio cracking to life as Houston was finally able to make contact, promising a rescue. However, an electrical fire broke out, forcing Stone to escape the Shenzou immediately. She ejected the hatch and the Shenzou rapidly filled with water and struggled to breathe. For a moment, it seemed like she would drown and the weight of the capsule and parachute quickly dragged it to the bottom. Stone tried to swim to the surface, but the eighty pound spacesuit pinned her to the bottom of the lake. Stone was forced to frantically strip the heavy suit away to allow her to make a desperate flight to the surface.
Ryan bursted out of the water and floated on the surface, taking a moment to catch her breath where she saw the remaining debris of Tiangong completing it's own re-entry and burning up across the sky. Stone was able to swim to shore where she collapsed momentarily on the beach, laughing and gripping the sand in her hands, happy to be on land again. Forcing herself to stand and walk to await rescue, she took her first shaky steps on dry land, acclimating herself to existing in the Earth's gravity.