New Criticals

Perhaps the most embarrassing scene, to this effect, is when Ryan randomly pushes buttons on a control board, saying “inny-meeny-miny-moe;” she may be a brilliant engineer—although we never really know what her research is about—but she is reduced to guesswork and plain luck. Whereas earlier in the film, she is unable to concentrate as music plays in the background (while she uploads data from the technology that she has been brought on the mission as its specialist to operate, I might add), later, she passionately and quickly operates a machine she knows nothing about, pushing buttons while speaking of her daughter’s death as a final gesture of letting her go. It's as if her shirking of mourning here propels her mental activity and allows her to finally “man up” enough to handle the machinery of NASA.

It gets worse. Even in outer space, where there is supposed silence and peace of mind (according to Clooney’s character), Ryan gets grilled about her lack of a love life. She confesses, almost apologetically: “I just go to work and drive.” She is “checked out” of life (read: full-fledged normative Western womanhood). This type of questioning is grossly reminiscent of the kind that today’s online dating forums and reality TV shows routinely catapult at unmarried women who have chosen to pursue careers. Here, the pathologizing of the figure of the workingwoman as a workaholic and failed mother continues, masked by the gorgeous cinematography and impressive display of technical realism.