- "I get it, it's nice up here. You could just shut down all the systems, turn down all the lights, just close your eyes and tune out everybody. There's nobody up here that can hurt you. It's safe. What's the point of going on? What's the point of living? Your kid died, it doesn't get any rougher than that. Still, it's a matter of what you do now. If you decide to go then you just gotta get on with it. Sit back, enjoy the ride, you gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start living life. Hey, Ryan, it's time to go home."
- ―Matt Kowalski during Ryan Stone's hallucination
|Portrayed by||George Clooney|
Before the events of the film, Kowalski mentions that whenever he was in space, he would look down at Texas and think of his wife looking up at him. However, all was not well at home. When he returned to Earth, Kowalski discovered that his wife had been having an affair with a lawyer. Later Kowalski got a divorce from his wife but it seemed that he still had gumption despite his wife cheating on him, although he decided to retire.
Kowalski loves country music and has an obnoxious sense of humor, but he is a genuinely good person.
While on Ryan Stone's first space shuttle mission aboard the Space Shuttle Explorer, she is accompanied by Kowalski, who is commanding his final expedition. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope, Mission Control in Houston warns the team about a defunct Russian satellite self-destructing, which has caused a chain reaction forming a cloud of space debris. Mission control orders that the mission be aborted but shortly after, communications with Mission Control are lost, though the two continue to transmit into the blind, hoping that the ground crew can still hear them.
The debris traveling at over 50,000 miles per hour strikes the Explorer and detaches Stone from the shuttle, leaving her tumbling through space attached to an arm. Kowalski orders her to detach from the arm before she is carried too far, and Stone does so, but is ejected into the void of outer space, tumbling around attached to nothing. Kowalski soon recovers Stone and they make their way back to the space shuttle. They discover that the shuttle has suffered catastrophic damage and the crew is dead from exposure to the vacuum. They use Kowalski's thruster pack to make their way to the International Space Station, which is in orbit only about 100 km (60 mi) away. Kowalski calculates that they have 90 minutes before the debris field completes an orbit and threatens them again.
En route to the ISS, the two discuss Stone's life back home and the death of her daughter along with her first name, to which she responds "dad wanted a boy". As they approach the substantially damaged but still operational ISS, they see its crew has evacuated in one of its two Soyuz modules and that the parachute of the other capsule has accidentally been deployed, rendering it useless for returning to Earth. Kowalski suggests the remaining Soyuz be used to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong and board one of its modules to return safely to Earth.
Out of air and maneuvering power, the two try and grab onto the ISS as they fly by. Stone's leg gets entangled in Soyuz's parachute cords and she is able to grab a strap on Kowalski's suit. Despite Stone's protests, Kowalski detaches himself from the tether to save her from drifting away with him, and she is pulled back towards the ISS. As Kowalski floats away, he radios her additional instructions and encouragement, turning his music back on and admiring the sun on the Ganges. Eventually Kowalski's messages stop, and Dr. Stone realizes that he has died due to a lack of oxygen from a combination of carbon dioxide poisoning and oxygen deprivation. Although she desperately attempts to get him to tell her a story, he doesn't respond.
Later in the film while adrift in the Soyuz Capsule, after a brief communication with a Greenlandic Inuit fisherman and listening to him cooing a baby, Dr. Stone resigns herself to being stranded and shuts down the oxygen supply of the cabin in order to commit a painless suicide via hypoxia. As she begins to lose consciousness, Kowalski appears outside and enters the capsule. Scolding her for giving up, he tells her to use the Soyuz's landing rockets to propel the capsule toward Tiangong. Stone realizes that Kowalski's reappearance was merely a hallucination in her oxygen-deprived state, and that Kowalski never appeared after all. Stone realizes that her consciousness manifested her memories from training in Kowalski, allowing her to survive.
Kowalski sacrificed himself to save Stone, but in the end he achieved his goal of beating Anatoly Solovyev's longest spacewalk record.
- It's not up to you.
- Beautiful, don't you think?
- Houston, i have a bad feeling about this mission.
- I know. You never realized how devastatingly good-looking I am, but I need you to stop staring and help me with the tether. Okay?
- Houston, in the blind. This is Kowalski. Our current location is approximately 900 meters out from the Explorer. Dr. Stone and I would like to retrieve the body of Mission Specialist Shariff and return it to Shuttle. Am I a go to retrieve? Roger that.
- Illinois. Central time zone. That makes it roughly... 8 PM right now. What are the good people of Lake Zurich doing at 8 o’clock in the evening?
- Houston in the blind we have visual of the ISS. Station must have been evacuated because first Soyuz is missing. Second Soyuz exhibits surface damage and chute has deployed. It's use as escape pod for re-entry to Earth is impossible.
- Half of North America just lost their Facebook.
- Here's hopin' you have a hell of an insurance policy, Houston. The damages to Explorer... are catastrophic. Commence search for survivors.
- Here we go! Careful on the edges!
- Grab a hold! Grab anything!
- Call Anatoly and tell him he's been bumped!
- You're the genius, I just drive the bus.
- It's not rocket science. Just point the damn thing at earth and by this time tomorrow you'll be back in Lake Zurich with one hell of a story to tell. You copy? Ryan. You copy?
- Unstrap. Look, we need to get the hell out of here!
- No, don't wait for us!
- Astronaut off structure! Dr. Stone is off structure!
- Dr. Stone, detach. You must detach! If you don’t detach that arm is going to carry you too far! Listen to my voice! You need to focus! I’m losing visual of you! In a few seconds I won’t be able to track you! I can't see you anymore! Do it now!
- Ryan, you're going to have to learn to let go.
- So, now that we have some distance between us- you’re attracted to me, aren’t you?
- You know, Ryan is a nice name for a girl. Wow, you should see the sun on the Ganges. It's amazing.
- I believe in fairies, i do, i do!
- In the original script, he was much younger and his name was Kowalsky.
- Every scene Kowalski is in, he is listening to Angels are Hard to Find by Hank Williams, Jr.
- The scene where Ryan hallucinates Kowalski was George Clooney's idea.