2013, R, 93 mins.
2013, R, 93 mins.
Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone / George Clooney as Matt Kowalski / Basher Savage as Space Station Captain (voice)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón / Written by Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón
Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY is one of those once in a decade or so works that all but restores one’s lost faith in the transformative allure and power of the movies.
watershed technological films, GRAVITY is an effort that works on viewers
as a form of pure out-of-body escapism: During its 93 minutes you grow
less conscious of your theatrical surroundings and instead become lost in
what’s transpiring on the silver screen.
This is a film to be actively experienced, not just passively
watched. Like, perhaps, the
original STAR WARS,
Cuaron’s film uses redefining visual and special effects to show us new and wondrous
things...and what endless awe and wonder GRAVITY evokes.
is Cuaron’s first film since his masterful sci-fi dystopian thriller CHILDREN
OF MEN from 2006, and his long-awaited return to the director's
chair has been well worth the wait. This is a film that – aside from one very brief section –
takes place completely in outer space, several hundred
miles above Earth’s orbit. Comparisons
to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY will, no doubt, be made,
which is fair. Both films are
pure cinematic feasts for the eyes and imagination and both present eerily
accurate evocations of the inherent beauty and dangers of man exploring
and surviving in outer space. The
opening title card of GRAVITY states, “Life in space is impossible.”
At its core, Cuaron’s film may superficially be all about its
extraordinary eye candy, but it does tell a simple story with a simple and
far-reaching economy. It may
be set in space, but the film still deals with the primal, earth-bound human
instinct to survive when placed in a treacherous situation beyond one's control
and with no help on the horizon.
opening shot of GRAVITY – one of the great shots of the movies – echoes
Cuaron’s exquisitely rendered, one-take tracking shots in CHILDREN OF
MEN that gave that film such a startling sense of immediacy.
Running for over 10 minutes and in one apparent take, the introductory
shot of GRAVITY is
slow, lumbering, and leisurely, but it nevertheless grounds viewers in the
cold, desolate silence and vastness of space.
Earth is a shimmering and bright orb below the astronauts, but
beyond that lies the recesses of our universe that goes on without end.
As the camera tracks we eventually land on a couple of NASA’s
finest, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as
they embark on a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Telescope.
The beauty and ethereal power of this introduction is undeniable;
there’s not one moment where you don’t believe that these characters
are indeed in outer space.
though the pair are safely tethered to their shuttle and are performing
what appears to be a routine repair, one false move on their part could
spell disaster. Well,
disaster does strike when debris from a Russian anti-satellite test comes
hurtling their way. Interference from it causes a total communication
blackout for the astronauts with Mission Control, and then the debris
comes and damages their shuttle, leaving both Ryan and Matt free floating
in space. Matt, however, has
a thruster pack, whereas Ryan does not, leaving her stranded and floating
in space with almost no chance of rescue or survival.
Cuaron’s camera here – which gives us incredible first-person
shots within Ryan’s suit – provides viewers with an instantaneous sensation of
not only Ryan’s predicament, but also of her horrendous confusion,
anxiety, and fear. Her only
hope is to reach a nearby orbiting Chinese station in order to have any
chance of returning home safely.
don’t want to say anything more about the underlining story here.
What needs to be said is that $100 million GRAVITY – a relatively
small sum considering what’s on screen - is, without a doubt, one of those
most pain-stakingly envisioned and executed films to emerge from Hollywood
in an awfully long time, and one that mixes bravura visual effects, sound
design, cinematography, and, yes, crafty and thankless performances to
sell its ambitious premise. On
a basic level of it being an astronauts-in-space visceral experience,
GRAVITY has very few equals. Despite
being the product of what must have been CGI effects – which usually
drowns out the reality of a film – the portrayal of space here has an
astonishing verisimilitude. We are given a view of what goes on beyond the
human experience in all of its gorgeous and foreboding splendor and
enormity. Wisely, Cuaron encapsulates the silence of space, which is
crucial to further embellish the film’s nightmarish tension and the odd
sense of claustrophobia that the astronauts have while in the confines of
the film’s jaw-dropping technological artifice, Cuaron’s biggest coup
may be eliciting in Sandra Bullock her finest and most emotionally raw
performance that she has ever given. As her character and Clooney’s separate, it becomes clear
that GRAVITY will be Bullock’s one-woman picture to own. Not only does she give a performance of thankless physicality
(she, no doubt, was in harnesses throughout much of the shooting to sell the
notion of her character’s weightlessness), but she also has to suggest a
smart and cunning woman that is also vulnerable and deeply frightened by
her deadly situation that would strain the sanity of the strongest of
willed people. That, and
Cuaron’s screenplay – which he fashioned with his son Jonas – even
manages to have time to explore the psychological depth to Bullock’s
character, making it that much easier to empathize with her despite her
being in a situation we can't identify with.
And how wonderful is it to see a large-scale science
fiction/survival film told uniquely from the female prerogative?
The only regrettable element of GRAVITY is that Bullock’s career
high and Oscar nomination worthy work here might be ignored amidst the
film’s visual pageantry and dynamism.
Yet, it’s next-to-impossible to ignore GRAVITY as a stunningly visionary film in a relative age when truly groundbreaking films are in short supply. It’s sure to become a benchmark by which all other future space themed films will look to for artistic inspiration, much like 2001 and STAR WARS did several decades in the past. Like great cinema, GRAVITY audaciously and confidently marries efficient storytelling, brilliant performances, breathtaking tension and intrigue, and game-changing technological movie magic. It dares to show audiences the unlimited possibilities of the movies to take you to new places and transport you out of your everyday surroundings. Cuaron's film also declares that the future of the movies is bright, even when we all thought that the creative well has all but been dried up. GRAVITY is one of the most visually arresting and powerful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.