The Rhetorical Interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a Model for Examining Rhetorical Discourse in Film

Brent Yergensen
The University of Texas at Tyler
Tyler, Texas, USA

Scott Church
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah, USA 


This essay advances the concept of the “rhetorical interlude,” a means by which scholars and teachers may examine how rhetorical messages are embedded in films. To illustrate, this study includes an examination of the rhetorical interlude in the 2013 film Gravity (Cuarón, 2013) as the film’s protagonist, Ryan Stone, is visited by the apparition of her dead colleague, Matt Kowalski, who instructs her on survival in space and on the significance of moving on from personal tragedy. In a pattern of ghostly apparitions appearing in perplexing outer space situations, Gravity situates scientific complexity as capable of being transcended with the help of supernatural assistance. We examine the rhetorical purpose of the climactic speech in the film, which is a vernacular reframing of scientific complexity in order to make abstract concepts more accessible. We argue that the film offers a practical and understandable answer to scientific complexity, enhancing the film’s themes of humanity conquering mortality and the unknown through vernacular simplicity. Finally, we conclude that this method of uncovering the persuasive potential of cinematic speech is an excellent pedagogical tool for higher education teacher-scholars and their students to learn about rhetoric.

Keywords: Science fiction, Gravity, film, oratory, ghosts, speech

Author Bios

Brent Yergensen (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln) is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Communication at The University of Texas at Tyler. His research focuses primarily on the rhetoric of film and popular culture, and is published in Journal of Visual Political Communication, Explorations in Media Ecology, Journal of Religion, Film & Media, Popular Culture Studies Journal, Studies in Popular Culture, Journal of Religion & Society, and other scholarly journals and book anthologies.

Scott Haden Church (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln) is an Associate Professor in the School of Communications at Brigham Young University. His research primarily uses critical methods to examine popular culture and social media. His research has been published recently in Journal of Media and Religion, Explorations in Media Ecology, Public Relations Review, and Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Suggested Reference Citation


Yergensen, B, & Church, S. H. (2023). The rhetorical interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a model for examining rhetorical discourse in film.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 10(1).


Yergensen, Brent, and Scott Haden Church. “The Rhetorical Interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a Model for Examining Rhetorical Discourse in Film.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2023, vol 10, no. 1,


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