First things first, try not to watch Gravity alone.
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” features astronauts coping with disaster. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play spacefarers in a technically dazzling Hollywood blockbuster that I can’t even imagine without feeling dizzy. Vast star fields that are entirely devoid of life, the inky blackness of space stretched out across your field of vision and Earth, itself, seen as an outsider is enough to make you feel insignificant and terribly lonely.
Gravity is a groundbreaking technical achievement, helmed by Alfonso Cuarón who makes each visual into poetry, giving form to style. It is the kind of art that aims to be great in every possible way. Gravity is the rare in that it is intellectually challenging and accessible to a wide audience. Gravity sucks you right in from the first moment. Everything is just right, a minor miracle, from the nerve-wracking moments to the unbroken starting shot all accompanied by Steven Price’s score. “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” Kowalski tells mission control (voiced, by Ed Harris, a veteran of “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13″, both space disaster movies). We see space, and Earth and the mission, the motives and the people.
Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a first-time space traveler, who boards a shuttle alongside George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski to repair the Hubble telescope. Debris destroys their ride back home and Ryan is marooned in orbit alongside Kowalski taking a disaster management course in real time.
The camera moves us through their treacherous environment and we see objects in space. A chess piece, several ballpoint pens, a Marvin the Martian doll, a vagrant electrical flame, a nacreous teardrop. And then suddenly we move into first person. We are trapped and protected by a big clumsy suit. We are left looking for someone, something, anything to grab onto.
For long stretches, Bullock gives an incredible one-woman show. The camera frames her in ways that speak a lot. She twists and turns and swims through zero gravity. A shot of her curled up in a fetal position in zero gravity hits home. Bullock’s emotional face is often seen through her helmet visor (which for me evoked Ripley from James Cameron’s space horror epic series, Alien). She moves alone and in fear from one mechanical structure to another before eventually taking control, leading to the unabashedly metaphorical closing scene of the film.
There are complaints about Gravity on the internet, which is to be expected when a movie has been praised to the heavens like this one has. The film’s tone is more sentimental in comparison to other space epics like Kubrick’s 2001 or the Alien franchise. The dialogue in the film is sparse and mostly made up of platitudes. A large number of scenes are people talking to each other using words that tell us nothing about the story mostly because the story is there for use to see. This is strangely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 which also had patchwork dialogue with brilliant visuals. Both filmmakers trust their visuals to do the talking.
Remember that this is an original idea that has opened #1 at the box office amidst a glut of terrible reboots and remakes. The precision and beauty of the filmmaking give us something close to the heavens. For this it must be celebrated.
If you ask me what “Gravity” is about, I’ll say it is about the truth. This film is about that time you were crushed by the immense despair of existence, when you felt unendurable sadness. You thought all hope was lost and all you wanted was to give up. But you didn’t.
Why did you decide to keep going? Gravity attempts to answer this question. For that it must be treasured.
Gravity might not be a perfect film because there is no such thing as a “perfect film”. Who among us would recognize perfection if we ever came across it? Perfection is a strange, elusive concept that is really hard to understand, harder to conceptualize and hardest to prove. All movies have problems but any minor faults I have with them simply dwarf in comparison to the film’s towering accomplishments. If a movie fits my idea of perfection, I love its faults.
Our stories don’t always have to be perfect. When Gravity is playing, I dare you to look away. For this it must be praised.
In this age of internet streaming and on-demand, here’s a film that is cinema, meant to be experienced in a theatre. You must see it and you must see it in theaters and in 3-D because if you don’t, you will never see it the way it was meant to be seen, and you will forever miss out on one of the great cinematic experiences of this century.