It has been almost seven years since we last saw anything from director Alfonso Cuarón. After directing Children of Men, one of the finest science fiction films I have seen, he went away, weirdly leaving me in a state of distress from a director that captures in my mind, the essence of science fiction. Children of Men was an incredibly thought provoking film, capturing the human struggle on a global scale of coping with a future that isn’t coming. Taking that premise, he scaled it down to the struggles of one man bringing the last hope the Earth has of continuing on and propagating the human race. Seven years go by and now we have what I believe to be his finest work ever, Gravity.
Gravity is the science fiction movie that audience need now in an age when sci-fi is equated with giant, lumbering robots battling creatures from an unknown dimension or a starship out on the edge of space. It’s a movie that doesn’t allow the whiz bang gadgetry or hyper color visuals of distant planets to overshadow the human element of science fiction. What we have here is a science fiction endurance test, one that makes the act of watching it an overwhelming physical experience, nerve-racking in its endeavor to show us a harrowing struggle of the most monumental kind, survival in space.
The film is about a group of astronauts, specifically Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalkski (George Clooney), who are on a mission to repair the Hubble before their work is interrupted by an emergency to abort their mission. Their shuttle is in the pathway of a debris field caused by an exploding satellite that is hurtling the debris their way at several thousand miles per hour. The shuttle is ripped apart, the crew is scattered and the sense of foreboding dread sets in. It now becomes a struggle to survive in the vastness of space.
I don’t want to give too much away of what happens in the film as the experience of dread and fear fuel the film and the audience. It’s an ordeal that you experience along with Dr. Stone as she tries to find vestiges of safety and comfort amongst the vast expanse of space. Sandra Bullock turns in one of her best performances here, one that deserves more recognition than role and Oscar win for The Blindside. I thought about her struggle with the saying that your problems in life seem miniscule compared the world or even your place in the universe. Here her problems are monumental, but eerily seem dwarfed set amongst the backdrop of space. Bullock sells the stretched to the point of giving it all up performance of Stone with a focus depth to her character, at times gripping and scrapping the side of ship to get into its safety and other times slowly drifting into that embrace of surrendering, giving up on her struggle and letting space claim her as it has the other members. This is a phenomenal performance where we struggle and gasp and basically feel what she is feeling because it her, us and space in this movie. I could write more about her role, but it is best left unsaid and letting you witness her cosmic struggles. Clooney, well, it’s George Clooney guys. He is the space captain of our dreams, the guy we would want on our side till the end and certainly a charming factor of some light comedic relief, the calming breath of air we need in this struggle.
Cuarón is nothing short of masterful here with Gravity. He decides to askew the more thought provoking ideas of space, life and death with a visual whirlwind of our heroines fight to stay alive in space and make it back to Earth. That isn’t to say the film doesn’t present some ideas or internal dialogue as Stone is fighting to stay alive, it’s just that he accelerates the need for survival so as to keep the audience moving with the film, never letting us have a moments rest. His directing is paired with some of the best visuals effects and cinematography in any science fiction film this year. Emmanuel Lubezki is owed a big thanks here for seamlessly integrating some of the most gorgeous looking shots in the movie with the special effects utilized. It requires a certain eye and foresight in order to see how a scene like the silhouette of Stone against the Milky Way will look like, but it pulls you into the movie with its effect. It is fantastic to see Lubezki and Cuarón working again on another movie since Children of Men and Gravity is certainly a showcasing of their combined talents.
The feeling of dread, terror, anguish, anxiety and emotional overload is something I don’t experience too often in movies. Gravity is the amalgamation of a movie that works on every single level. From the superb acting of Bullock and Clooney, the human aspect of their struggle becomes personal to the audience. The effects and visuals of the movie create this ominous feeling of despair that the plight of the characters seems impossible amongst the backdrop of the void. With nothing but the sound of panicked breathes, the frantic pawing and grasping of any surface that will stop their drifting in space, and the contemplation of giving up hope, Gravity is one of the most immersive films I have seen this year and demands to be seen on the big screen. If there is an IMAX screen near you, see it. See it in 3D if you can, which Gravity is one of the rare movies that uses 3D to pull you further into the blackness of space.
Rating: 5 out of 5
By Nick Guzman