A breath-taking cinematic experience Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is almost overwhelming in its depiction of the expansive freedom versus suffocating loneliness of space. The film instantly envelopes; treating the audience as if we’re along for the ride with its two, at turns, equally mesmerised ‘space walking’ protagonists.
Unabashedly simple in its plotting, Gravity’s narrative action can be neatly summarised as a pair of astronauts—inexperienced (in space) research engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock giving one hell of a performance with incredibly limited dialogue) and NASA mission stalwart Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, also excellent)—cast adrift in the nothingness of space, striving to find their way back to solid earth. If the thematic mirroring of lives cast adrift and a struggle to escape crushing social/emotional isolation comes off as a little trite it nevertheless integrates into the overall experience of the film. The (relatively spare) scripting lets the show down at times—I could have done without at least one of Dr Stone’s monologues—though the character interaction between Bullock and Clooney is believably charged and natural.
The fact is visual experience truly does drive this film which, in other ways, is on a par with many others. This is not to intimate that the non-visual aspects of the film are poorly executed or ‘bad’ per se only that this particular aspect is so well realised that it elevates the film as a whole. I was even stumped as to how all the zero-gravity simulation could possibly have been achieved*. I mean, surely it couldn’t actually have been filmed in space could it? As a purely cinematic endeavour Gravity is something unique: an arresting blend of unobtrusive technological innovation and a strongly felt human sensibility. Cuarón’s hand and that of his highly accomplished, regular DOP (and close friend) Emmanuel Lubezki are all over this production with its lengthy shots, fluid movement, and deliberate deployment of light. This is surely a ‘space’ feature that will appeal more broadly than unsatisfactory genre titles may suggest and is one of the most interesting to arrive in quite some time. The film is not even strictly ‘science fiction’, being that all the technology and systems in it exist right now and the action portrayed is entirely feasible—despite employing the usual emotion heightening mechanics (it always has to be the last possible rail grabbed at the very final moment doesn’t it?)
This is a movie I not only recommend seeing but also that it be seen on the biggest screen available and in 3D if you can. Generally I’m ambivalent (at best) about 3D; I often find it unnecessary and distracting. But in this case it is very well used and perfectly suited to the environment of the film. Gravity stands just behind the immersive ocean-bounded documentary Leviathan as my most compelling visual experience in recent memory and is a smartly presented feather in filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón’s authorial cap.
Rating: M Offensive language and content that may disturb.
*Cuarón explains a little about the technical processes used to recreate the zero gravity look and feel in Dan P. Lee’s excellent interview in Vulture Magazine dated 23 September 2013