‘Gravity’ is absolutely stellar
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 21:10
I felt physically exhausted after watching “Gravity.” I wasn’t simply sitting in a theater watching images pop on the screen with 3D glasses on my head and surround sound in my ears, I was careening through space for every terrifying second, fighting to survive.
“Gravity” isn’t just a movie. It’s a metaphysical experience.
The plot of the film is ingeniously simple. Medical engineer and rookie spacewalker, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), finds herself spiraling through the infinite expanse of space when debris destroys the shuttle that she was working on with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). With a dwindling oxygen supply and no contact with Earth, Stone and Kowalski must work together to find a way home.
Just imagine how utterly horrifying it would be to be trapped in space, doomed to forever sail across a sea of emptiness without any way to steer yourself toward a destination. I imagine it as similar to being in a state of complete paralysis: conscious but helpless. It’s an intriguing thought for sure, but can an entire movie be sustained on such a simple premise?
In the hands of director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón, the answer is a resounding “yes.” There are some really inventive ways that he builds and releases tension, none of which I’ll spoil here. You’ll just have to trust me. The movie never fails to capture your attention.
“Gravity” is primal storytelling at its best, less focused on character arcs and more on wringing a kaleidoscope of emotion out of the audience. It’s alternately terrifying, thrilling, heartbreaking, awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
That’s not to say that the characters are undefined — quite the opposite in fact. The film gives us just enough information to connect with them as human beings without distracting us from the immediacy of the narrative. We identify with their internal struggles so that when everything goes haywire it feels like something is at stake.
It also helps that we’re given remarkable performances from the two leads, especially considering that they had to act mostly in front of a green screen while suspended in the air.
Clooney brings his usual charm to a character that is much nobler than what we typically see of the actor. He’s a voice to give us an occasional break from the terror that dominates the film. However, it’s Bullock who makes the film as compelling as it is.
Her desperation is evident in every facet of her performance, most notably in her erratic breathing, something she does so convincingly that I found myself involuntarily matching her pace. She’s the conduit through which the audience feels emotion and much of the film’s success is thanks to her devastatingly sympathetic acting. I fully expect her to take home a ton of awards for her work.
What’s just as impressive as the acting is the stunning scenery that surrounds the actors. The view of the Earth is majestic, especially when it eclipses the sun and casts varying bursts of light and color onto the screen. The effects are extraordinary and rendered in painstaking detail. You’ll marvel just as much at the destruction of a satellite — and the resulting confetti of debris — as you will at the way a person’s breath collects on the inside of their helmet.
It’s all framed by a camera that fluidly mimics the weightlessness of space, flowing and spinning around the characters in mostly unbroken takes (the first shot of the film is 13 minutes long). It’s composed more like a dance than an action picture, recalling the iconic “Blue Danube” scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The technique makes you feel like you’re a character in the film; an unseen entity that’s tagging along for one wild ride.
I also highly recommend seeing the film in 3D, even if you’re not a fan of the format. The 3D is so thoroughly convincing that it feels like an extension of your own reality. It’s beyond immersive. It’s probably as close as you’ll ever get to actually traveling in space.
Cuarón cannot be given enough credit for making everything work as seamlessly as it does. It feels like an evolutionary step forward in cinema, not just in terms of technology and experimentation, but also in the way that he marries big-budget spectacle with the artistic sensibilities of less mainstream entertainment.
“Gravity” is my favorite movie of the year. This new classic in science fiction is worthy of being mentioned alongside masterpieces of the genre like “Star Wars” and the aforementioned “2001.” See it on the biggest screen possible; it’s one of the best and most adrenaline-inducing experiences I’ve ever had at the movies.
5 out of 5 stars.