Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity (2013)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón                                 Writers: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Film Score: Steven Price                                Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris and Paul Sharma

Halfway into this incredibly suspenseful film, Sandra Bullock’s character articulates precisely what makes it so suspenseful. Believing she is going to die, she tells herself that everyone knows they’re going to die, and that she even knows when it’s going to happen to her. Then she says, “I know I’m going to die today. So why am I still scared?” This is the foundation that Gravity is built on, that the fear of death, regardless of our knowledge, is always present. Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón centered their script on this idea and it really delivers. Lots of fans are calling this the greatest space film ever made. I’m not sure that’s the case, but for my money it’s certainly the most realistic. I’ve never experienced a film that not only made me feel what it must feel like to be in space, but just how omnipresent the peril is.

The film begins at the end of the mission of space shuttle Explorer. The crew of five is fairly inconsequential to the plot. The captain of the ship, Amy Warren, and crewmember Paul Sharma are only heard as voices on Bullock’s headset. Though there are third-person shots in the film, the film is exclusively from Bullock’s point of view. George Clooney, on his last space mission, is outside the craft with Sharma and Bullock to assist Bullock in repairing the Hubble telescope. She plays a scientist who has no space experience but was sent on the mission to do the necessary repairs. Suddenly the crew gets a warning from Mission Control in Houston that space debris from a missile strike on a defunct satellite is heading their way and traveling at speeds as fast as a bullet relative to them. In the aftermath of the debris storm, Bullock is catapulted out into space alone.

The rest of the story is so improbable as to strain credulity, and yet it works beautifully. Far from destroying the suspension of disbelief, the viewer craves the possibilities that are put in front of Bullock as she attempts to make her way to safety. Clooney is his usual confident, cocky self and though he doesn’t have as much screen time as I would have hoped, he is effective as the wily veteran space jockey. The film, however, is Bullock’s. Originally conceived for Angelina Jolie, and at one point offered to Natalie Portman, the film eventually wound up in Bullock’s lab and she makes the most of it. No stranger to suspense from appearances in films like Speed and The Net, she has a look and style that, for me, is an acquired taste. Even so, she does an incredible job of making me care what happens to her, not really in an objective way but in a way the puts the viewer in her place.

It’s not a terribly inventive film, but the technical aspects are astounding. Director Alfonso Cuarón knows his way around CGI from his work on one of the Harry Potter films. The realism of the space setting is simply remarkable and even astronauts who have worked on shuttle missions remarked on its authenticity. For me, the thematic elements and comparisons to terrestrial equivalents are beside the point. The dark, cold void of space, the utter indifference of the universe to the spark of life floating above the earth, that is the real star. Gravity is not so much a story as it is an experience. And from my seat in the theater, it was an experience well worth having.

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