Gravity is a gorgeous 90 minute long panic attack that caresses the soul while it obliterates the senses. Co-writer and director Alfonso Cuarón finds strength in tragedy in an oddly therapeutic way while musing on the incredible technological achievements of the human race and the ability for the mind, body and spirit to endure against all odds. It’s a film that affirms our beautiful but fragile existence and it feels like the sum of humankind’s estimated 200,000 years on Earth.
Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts repairing a satellite in space, but an accident caused by floating debris leave the pair adrift in orbit fighting to survive.
Cuarón totally commits to the sensory deprivation of space and it’s a haunting environment to occupy. The silence is terminal, every breath is a gift and the darkness of the expansive universe waits to devour any life that breaks from Earth’s gravitational pull. The chances of death are high compared with the probability of celebrating another birthday, which makes every action of the Stone and Kowalski absolutely intense. Cuarón and co-writer Jonás Cuarón (the Cuaróns) continually stack up the obstacles for each character to overcome and the situations perfectly reflect the unforgiving doctrine of nature, it’s like Charles Darwin reciting chapters of The Origin of the Species while crushing cars in a monster truck.
In the quieter moments away from the chaos, the Cuaróns muse on the human condition with many of the space shuttles, suits and stations acting like life support systems akin to the womb in the foetal stage of development. At times Bullock’s physical movements are evocative of the images associated with pictures of a developing infant from the snapshot of an ultrasound. There are different methods of communication tools such as storytelling, music and humour used to sooth the astronauts with the scattered link with mission-control (voiced by Ed Harris) acting like an emotional link to home. These moments plunge into the primal depths of our development and it’s an amazing contrast with the scientific breakthroughs that have enabled space travel; our potential is limitless yet we are still bound by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, and eventually our mortality.
The camera majestically floats in and around the astronauts, often switching to offer the point-of-view of each character to further immerse you into the experience. Cuarón’s free flowing style of direction astonishes with minimal editing and fluid zero gravity action sequences. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki combined with incredibly detailed special effects by Tim Webber and his team of effects wizards push the art form to the limit – reality completely falls away and life amongst the stars feels real.
Bullock does a wonderful job of giving her character the jittery edge of a rookie in the beginning while steadily earning her grit and courage throughout the experience. In isolation she is outstanding and manages to produce an incredible amount of emotion working with intimate objects and scrambled voices from various radio devices. Clooney is great channelling the steely demeanour of an Apollo era astronaut but none of the wonder of the job is lost on him. Clooney’s character is constantly reflecting on the miracle of Earth’s many natural trinkets. Both actors do an amazing job of portraying the opposing forces of optimism and pessimism, particularly Bullock, whose character has plenty of backstory to justify her actions and it’s excellent watching her crush mental roadblocks.
The score by Steven Price pushes all the right buttons. When his work is at full power blasting through the cinema speakers it’s overwhelming and perfectly matches the epic in scope of Cuarón’s story and visuals.
Gravity is a film that pulses along with every fibre of your being; it’s as if Alfonso Cuarón has tapped into the building blocks of our DNA and prodded the psyche. Every intense step of the journey results in a cinematic baptism that highlights the extraordinary accomplishment of life itself.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies