October 24, 2013
It’s true that the majority of mainstream cinema is in a sorry state of affairs with regard to creativity. Sequels and reboots crowd the schedules of major studios, and original content is in danger of being squeezed out. It doesn’t help that TV and the internet are quickly catching up in terms of quality with cinema-worthy programs like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. It’s time for a comeback for film; it’s time for a movie like Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s follow-up to Children of Men is not only an important original work and a dazzling spectacle of a film—it makes a case for the medium of cinema as a whole. Gravity takes advantage of the wide screen in such a way that its power would be diminished if viewed anywhere else. Cuarón pushes boundaries so much that he forces one to reevaluate cinema’s potential.
The plot of Gravity is intentionally simple, concentrating on two astronauts stranded in space after the devastation of their spacecraft. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a novice space traveler on her first expedition into the void. Clooney is her reassuring astronaut partner: the professional, confident character that he often plays.
It is stating the obvious to say that Gravity is a thing of beauty. It contains computer-generated imagery that is seamless in relation to the work of the flesh-and-blood actors. Since Avatar started the revolution of 3D films in Hollywood, many prolific directors have taken advantage of the format to tell their stories. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi both helped prove that it was more than just a gimmick. However, Alfonso Cuarón makes the strongest argument yet for the third dimension in Gravity. The audience has no choice but to be involved in the action as debris is hurled at the screen and the camera spins through the vacuum of space.
Before long it seems that the film’s story will be destined to fall short of its visuals, and there is some truth to that sentiment (it would be hard for any film’s story to compete). For example, Sandra Bullock appears to function merely as a stand-in for the audience at first, with her primary emotion being panic as she is tossed through the inky void. Even her tragic backstory feels like a tacked-on character trait. However, as Stone discovers her strength, her prior experience with loss proves to be central to the film’s theme of survival under any circumstance. Cuarón pits his lead character against the void of space, in a situation that grows more deadly with each minute. One scene in particular is particularly poignant (especially given Bullock’s subtle acting in the scene, which she rarely has the opportunity to use otherwise in the film), while Stone believes she is going to die as she talks to a man who does not speak her language. The audience is often left to wonder if Stone has the will to continue her struggle for survival. However, Gravity proves to be a study in the ability to find hope against all odds.
Though some interesting ideas are parceled through in Gravity, the film does not manage to sidestep some clichés. Some of Bullock’s lines as the final act rolls to a close are obvious, and a hallucination provides an easy deus ex machina. The musical score can be overpowering, especially when the silence of space is so much more effective.
All considered, Gravity feels like Cuarón’s most earnest effort to date. I include even early efforts like the sexy Mexican drama Y Tu Mamá También in that statement, for Gravity clears house on all the affectations of storytelling. There are no labyrinthine twists, nor are there dual narratives featuring the reactions of mission control on Earth to the plight of the astronauts. It is the story of a single woman who is determined to endure. If you do decide to see it, it is essential that you not wait for the DVD release. See it in 3D, and in IMAX if possible. Magic of this variety can only be witnessed on a big screen.