The final moments of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity are hard to forget: Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone stands alone on the seashore after crash-landing and swimming to safety. It’s an image that helped Cuarón earn a 2014 Academy Award for Best Director, with Gravity raking in a total of seven Oscars.
But longtime friend and colleague Guillermo del Toro — himself no stranger to the Oscars podium on the strength of his own genre blockbuster, The Shape of Water — says Cuarón had to fight to ensure the ending would make it to the final cut without interference from a studio (presumably Warner Bros., though del Toro doesn't mention the studio behind the film specifically) concerned over striking a more optimistic tone — and it’s a fight, says del Toro, that Cuarón was right to wage.
“The studio was pressuring Alfonso to ‘show’ helicopters in the sky, coming to rescue Sandra Bullock's character,” del Toro revealed via Twitter. “He said ‘no’. Emerging from the water was the triumph, touching the earth- standing…
“The studio then said: ‘Ok what about hearing the helicopters?’ Alfonso, once more, said ‘no’. The studio then suggested adding a radio giving her coordinates, promising help. Alfonso said ‘no’. Once more an ending made of Air, land and water.”
It’s not as though the end of Gravity doesn’t strike an optimistic note, since Bullock’s character overcomes tragic loss and a dangerous near miss with the kind of self-implosion that would have threatened her ability to make it back to Earth. But del Toro’s emphasis on the “triumph” of Cuarón’s original ending suggests the image of Dr. Stone finishing her journey alone makes a more powerful parting statement.
And the ending could have been far more bleak, as Cuarón revealed in a 2014 Reddit AMA: “We had an alternative ending in which after landing on Earth, Ryan will get back on her feet and as she's walking away Matt Kovalski [played by George Clooney] falls from the sky and crashes her to death. And then cut to black. Create scroll in silence.”
Instead, we got the striking image of Dr. Stone standing tall, almost giant-like, without any added context to assure the audience that her safety is assured just because she’s back on terra firma. But by the movie’s end, making that last step back to civilization might just be a smaller victory than the one she’s already won.