I just watched Gravity for the third time. The ending got me to thinking. It's never clearly explained in the movie, but where did Sandra Bullock's character end up landing? To me it looks suspiciously like China, possibly, which makes total sense considering she took the Shenzhou craft from the Chinese space station. I know the actual filming location was Lake Powell in Arizona.
According to IMDB:
The final scene was filmed at Lake Powell, Arizona, which is a giant water reservoir on the Colorado river. Whether this water was meant to represent Lake Powell in the movie itself as well is unknown; however, judging by the path of the debris it's doubtful, since the Tiangong is seen entering the atmosphere above the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, so it would seem that Ryan Stone would have landed on a lake in Central Asia.
Yet, since we clearly hear an American radio station through the speaker of the Shenzhou it's probable that Alfonso Cuarón wanted to leave the exact place of the landing ambiguous.
In one of the bonus featurettes on the blu-ray DVD, the filmmakers address the landscape seen when Stone resurfaces. The surrounding terrain on Lake Powell is normally desert-like, with barren and rocky formations. They show how they took the surrounding landscape of Lake Powell and enhanced it to make it look like a green, living area.
She enters the atmosphere over the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, so she should land in Central Asia somewhere but we can hear an American radio station through the speaker of the Shenzhou, which would indicate she's in America somehow, so we really don't know where she lands... Which apparently was the point.
This blog has dissected the film to determine the location of every shot in the film Gravity and to compare it with the corresponding location on Google Earth.
To cut a long story short, the final shots of the film should take place somewhere in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea or South Aral Sea (and based on the trajectory of the falling debris, the Tiangong Module should land somewhere near to the northern coastline) however the 200KM and below footage has been rendered completely in CGI.
Even ignoring the erratic trajectory (filmmaker's license), the island that she passes over and the lake that she lands in are fictional.
I think it is, as you say, deliberately left ambiguous - certainly because in the end it doesn't matter, she's back on earth safe and sound as she wanted to be. Whether she is in-fact safe is subject matter for another film :)
As to where she could possibly be, it could be anywhere - lets not forget that by the time she boarded the Chinese station, it was already in a dire situation due to the fact that it was skimming the atmosphere. She then immediately boards the Shenzhou as the station is ripped apart around her, so there is no real planning on where the deorbit burn will occur (there is typically several hours between undocking and actual deorbit for ISS visitors), it just happens as the station is destroyed.
With that in mind, its unlikely the craft was on target for a Chinese landing, IMHO shes just lucky she didn't end up in the middle of the Pacific.
I believe "Mystery" landscape 590 is 44°53'59.67"N 51° 6'10.28"E Which puts it at the north east corner of the Caspian Sea. Based on the trajectory in the movie, she appears to be going east and perhaps somewhat south.
My opinion, she ends up in Aydar Lake in Uzbekistan, probably on the eastern end where it becomes smaller.
Without the in depth analysis, I first got the impression she had landed at Lake Zurich, but then I thought that the director would perhapsTo find that ending, too predictable. But I feel I got that impression from the clearly American radio station playing in the escape capsule, and from the mission control's director (Ed Harris). :)
The location is supposed to represent a primordial place. She has experienced the hero's journey, been reborn. She represents not only Dr. Ryan Stone who has defeated her own grief and transcended literal death as well a figurative death, but humanity--even all land mammals, even evolution. The setting is Galapagos-like. In her skin tight clothes, she is the first creature who climbs out of the sea an onto land, dragging her body as she breathes the air. Then, she is a four-legged animal. Then, a biped. The frog, the insects and the strange landscape are not from our time. Prehistoric. Yet, the space station burns up in the atmosphere above her.
Some theories state that life on earth originated from outer-space.
Is it possible that Cuarón is saying humans must evolve again, that we must transcend our grief, our attachment to time and space and to even life itself. That our pain originates in our attachments?