Simple Story, Visual Mastery Mark Mesmerizing Gravity
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2013 4 Oct
DVD Release Date: February 25, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: October 4, 2013
Rating: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Some movies are labeled critic-proof. These are the movies that attract predictable audience response on opening weekend, usually action-oriented films starring huge names reciting stale dialogue. Audiences eat up such movies regardless of what critics say because they like the familiarity of the product—the same big stars, the same type of spectacle—nothing too challenging, but enough to satisfy.
Then there are movies that are review-proof: films so visually strange, hypnotic and flat-out unusual that their power is difficult to convey with words. Gravity is such a film. It demands superlatives for its visual presentation; it should be seen on a large screen, in 3D, to be fully appreciated. But it also is so concerned with an experience that it doesn't do much with character development.
Gravity is a wild 90-minute ride that’s tense, exhausting, even life affirming, but its characters' motivations are primal. Their survival is at stake, making the entire film feel like one big climax for people we don't really get to know. Although we root for them to survive, our interest in the characters' lives doesn't go much deeper than that. Your response to Gravity will depend on which element of moviemaking—visual inventiveness, characters with well-established motivation for their actions, or strong performances from the actors—means the most to you.
Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) are nearing the end of their mission in space. She's a "genius;" Kowalski refers to her as the one with a sharp scientific mind. By contrast, he's a kidder who dreams of breaking the record for longest spacewalk.
As they're making a repair to a telescope, they're told by Mission Control that debris from a destroyed Russian satellite is heading toward them, and it's approaching at speeds faster than a bullet. They need to get back inside their shuttle immediately, but Ryan, believing she can make just one more fix, delays their re-entry.
The delay proves fatal. The debris hits. The sequence is terrifying. We see Stone drift off into space and hear her panicked voice. The panic will subside and the tension will abate temporarily, but there will be much more to come—more spacewalking and more life-threatening moments as the duo, tethered together but floating in space, with almost nothing to prevent them from forever slipping away into the cosmos, walk to a space station and try to find a way back to Earth.
Kowalski is the voice of reason in Gravity. Although he jokes and yields to Stone's book knowledge, he's the one who talks her through moments when she's about to literally slip away. In fact, Clooney's voice is more of star in Gravity than his face; although we see the actor several times, we hear more of him.
In one critical sequence, Kowalski asks Stone about her life at home. Stone tells Kowalski she had a daughter, but the girl hit her head at age four and died. "That was it," she says. Stone was driving when she received the call with news of her daughter's death. "Ever since then, that's what I do (drive)," Stone tells Kowalski.
And that's about the extent of the character development in Gravity. The rest is comprised of Stone's attempts to enter a space station and get back to Earth before her oxygen supply runs out.
Gravity's most poignant moment comes when Stone, sure she's facing imminent death, says no one will mourn for her, and no one will pray for her soul. She doesn't know how to pray. Is there Anyone out there that can hear her? she wonders. Forced to confront her own mortality, Stone is shaken out of her lingering sorrow over her daughter's death to consider the idea that there might be Someone who cares about the dire situation in which she finds herself.
What director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) have achieved with Gravity is singular: an event that will be a landmark cinematic experience for many viewers. The long, single-shot takes Cuarón and Lubezki came up with for their earlier collaboration, Children of Men, are one-upped here in astonishing fashion, as the looping, spinning camera pulls the viewer into the orbit of the film's main characters and makes us feel like we're alongside them for their spacewalks.
Special effects create unforgettable, otherworldly images in Gravity, but none so lovely as the simple beauty of a human figure finding a moment of peace, reflection and contemplation. It's Bullock who has to carry Gravity, and she gives a dazzlingly physical performance as Stone, fighting off fire, space debris and her own fears in a seemingly hopeless effort to survive.
Gravity is a film of beauty and visual wonder. But how much better might the film have been had Cuarón's script (co-written with his son, Jonas) given the characters more attention? Gravity is the rare case where an epic film needed a longer running time to provide more information that might have led to a more profound experience. As it is, Gravity soars, but not quite as high as it could have.
- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; the f-word; s-word; a-s; b-tch; hell
- Drinking/Smoking: A joke and reminiscence about Mardi Gras; Matt says he knows where the Russians store their vodka; an analogy made to wine and beer, and to sipping versus gulping; vodka is consumed
- Sex/Nudity: None
- Violence/Crime: Debris storms; a dead body with a severely disfigured face; circumstances surrounding a young girl's death recounted; fire and diminished oxygen supplies threaten Ryan's life
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Ryan contemplates imminent death, says no one will mourn or pray for her soul; a Buddha figure; an expression of thanksgiving to an unnamed source
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Publication date: October 4, 2013