Of the four fundamental forces of the universe, gravity is the weakest – you can hold up a photo with a fridge magnet despite the force of the entire planet pulling the photo back to itself. But without gravity, we lose our sense of direction. Our untethered selves can fly off for an infinite period of time in infinite space, with nothing to stop us and nothing to hold on to. Like falling into a bottomless well. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite filmmakers. I enjoyed the visual feast of Prisoner of Azkaban and was moved by the bleak Children of Men. In Gravity, Cuaron takes the theme of overcoming adversity and the age-old plot of the shipwrecked survivor to outer space. In the opening scene, the Hubble Telescope looks like a piece of log on the surface of the ocean, and Dr. Ryan Stone (of course her name is “Stone”) a swimmer clutching on to it for dear life.
[Cut for further discussion and spoilers.]
It is, by far, the most realistic of the “spacesuit films” I have seen so far. There is no heroic swelling of music; they are just astronauts doing a routine job. Spacesuits are not cool but are in fact heavy and unwieldy. Zero gravity is not fun, as it disallows graceful movement. Space is both vast and cramped, and the International Space Station, no matter how grand-sounding the name, is nothing more than a tube.
It is terribly lonely in space.
There are several references to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, another visually triumphant film. There is the pen flying around Dr. Stone as she settles inside the cockpit. The fetal position she assumes after removing her suit reminds me of the Star Child, and of course, her emergence from the water is the picture of evolution. You can just imagine Tchaikovsky playing over Gravity‘s very first shot of the Earth that fills up the screen.
Though the film shows nods to its predecessor, Gravity itself is a technical and visual achievement. As mentioned by James Cameron, there’s an art “to creating moments that seem spontaneous but are very highly rehearsed and choreographed. Not too many people can do it… I think it’s really important for people in Hollywood to understand what was accomplished here.”
The cast of two is perfect. George Clooney’s Matt Kowalsky loves to joke and tell stories about inebriation, but you can sense the tension in his voice when tragedy strikes. And what a winning turn for Sandra Bullock. I keep thinking of that scene where she starts to cry about her inevitable death, and her tears float away as globs in unforgiving zero gravity.
The story has its inherent poetry: Dr. Stone’s daughter died because of gravity (she slipped and hit her head, “it’s the stupidest thing”), but it is gravity that Dr. Stone seeks in order to save her life.
I can go on and on. I love this film. Watch it.