“Gravity” ***** (out of 5)
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Written by: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
**SPOILERS MAY BE PRESENT IN THIS REVIEW**
In the process of formulating this review, I’ve struggled to find the most accurate combination of words to express the exact feeling I had as the credits for “Gravity” rolled. So many specific thoughts of praise for the film darted inside my brain and collided with the surges of emotion I felt. With “Gravity”, director Alfonso Cuaron has created a masterpiece of cinema- not only is the film a supreme technical achievement, but it speaks to the audience, reminding us to be both reverent and cautious of nature. Cuaron may not have originally intended this film to be more than a survival story; if that is the case, however, I imagine he saw it differently upon completion.
The idea behind the film is rather straightforward. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a rookie astronaut, and she is in space to mend something resembling the Hubble telescope. Her character is obviously smart and determined, but there exists a vulnerability about her. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (who we find out later is close to breaking the space walking time record) is there to offer big brother-type leadership. He’s exactly what I envision an astronaut being like- the man who is brilliant with a personality to boot. He’s a superstar and a hero, and honestly, who better than George Clooney to embody that role?
We know from watching the trailers that something devastating will happen to the shuttle. We know our main characters will be set adrift in space unless they can somehow reach the International Space Station, return to oxygen and possibly use an escape module to get back to Earth. By itself, that doesn’t make the movie sound as interesting. Instead, it is the setting that grabs our attention. Having most of the movie take place in real-time and zero gravity gives every scene a suddenness that oozes with tension, the unknown, and anxiety. Anxiety over whether or not the astronauts will live, or whether they will die from oxygen starvation, exposure to the absolute zero temps of space, the damaging blows from debris traveling faster than the speed of orbit, or the many other ways one can die alone 370 miles above the Earth’s surface. There is such an inherent power in the very situation our main characters find themselves in, and it was easy to allow my stomach to creep northward into my throat on many occasions during this movie.
As I mentioned before, I believe there is another aspect to this film that may or may not have been intended. There is a stark contrast between Clooney’s nonchalant and joyous nature at the beginning of the film when he is fluttering about the shuttle with his booster pack, and the way Bullock’s rookie astronaut, despite her training, seems clumsy amongst the stars. Humans exist on Earth for a reason; we aren’t built for space travel or space anything. Our bodies and minds lend themselves to the warmth of our ‘Mother Earth’, and space is SPACE. In “Gravity”, the cosmos are not depicted as anything other than what they are- cold, vast beyond our imagination, and un-adaptable. As the film stated upon opening, there is no life in space. It is that it is, so to speak.
However, humans are also explorers; we always have been and always should be. Space exploration and travel exist to give us a better understanding of who we are as we continue to chip away at the big question- “Why?”. Unfortunately, there will always be that great barrier of space between our knowledge and what we could discover elsewhere. The power of the cosmos displayed in this film reminded me how important it is to understand the significance of being humble before science. Humans can be proud of our accomplishments in technology, but we are so incredibly far away from having an acceptable comfort level amongst the stars that the possible world of Star Trek is clearly more fiction than science.
Some of us never stop yearning for the stars, and we long for that connection with the universe that the film reminds us is a bleak prospect. However, for as bleak as space is, this film reminded me of why we went there in the first place. Mankind has a capacity for hope that the main characters manage to show, and despite our struggles as a race, we continue to hold that capacity. In the midst of terrifying circumstances, “Gravity” shows us again the power of the human to try.
“Gravity” is the most exhilarating movie experience I’ve ever had. This is a flawless film, in both execution and impact. No scene is wasted, no digital effect skimps on quality, and no alternate pairing of actors could have engaged me more. No film about space is more elegantly crafted or as beautiful. I wish to express my true admiration for what Alfonso Cuaron has created as a filmmaker. He has shown that the willingness to be patient with an idea, to be reverent about the idea’s source material, and to respect that the audience is intelligent enough to see more than a survival story should serve as a lesson to future directors. At the risk of heaping too much praise, or sounding off with hyperbole, I offer this: “Gravity” is the best film I’ve seen this year, and perhaps of any year.
*Important note: it’s possible that the film may lose some effectiveness if you don’t see it in 3D. I saw it in Imax 3D, but I believe it will still be effective in 2D.