Overview: Orbiting debris sends an astronaut and engineer drifting into space; Warner Bros; 2013; Rated R; 91 Minutes.
The Future of Cinema: Any contention that any film experience could be comparable to its subject matter is a ridiculous one. Watching Donnen’s Charade doesn’t count as having visited Paris. The Purple Heart hasn’t yet been awarded to anyone for surviving a showing of Saving Private Ryan. But Gravity provides an experience so effectively like being in space that one can’t help but leave excited for the future of movies. In the opening scene, an uncut seventeen-minute take, the camera floats in zero gravity from Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) to Matt Kuwalski (George Clooney), pointing into the vastness of space and then back to a breathtaking shot of a glowing Earth. Director Alfonso Cuarόn is both a scientist and an artist. Here he has achieved with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki unprecedented depth and scale. Never have audiences felt more inclusive within the action of the film. When the catastrophic impact occurs, flinging Ryan Stone out into nothingness, the camera sends us with her. From therein, her struggle is our struggle. It is jarring, breathless, and unnerving.
Classic Influence: The film notes in its opening that the density of space creates a vacuum of sound. This lends silence to the debris and wreckage, which is orbiting at missile-speed destroying everything in its path. When we see scattered metal flying past, Ryan does not. She has no way to know. The tension, already palpable, is heightened immeasurably. A silent killer in an already lethal landscape. Hitchcock would squeal.
Historical Placement: Gravity will long be spoken of as a milestone, its ancestry most readily traced to 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film’s predecessor both in setting and unprecedented spectacle. But it deserves mention against countless other classic movies: Battleship Potemkin, M, Citizen Kane, Alien, and Days of Heaven. All examples of movies that looked into the future, chased the art form’s forward potential, and leapt toward what they saw, realizing impractical ambition while proving that the language of film is always becoming more complex and beautiful. Narratively, Ryan Stone’s will be remembered (thanks largely to Bullock’s commitment to the role) as one of the great survivalist stories of modern cinema. Prior to the mission, Ryan was a woman who had given up on life after the death of her young daughter. Her fight to survive is also a process of resurrection and rebirth: she encounters religious imagery on the ruined space stations, she is displayed on several occasions floating in the fetal position encircled by symbolic wombs, and when she finds her feet back on earth, her legs are wobbly and weak, like those of a newborn deer, as she heads toward certain rescue.
A Note of Caution: My euphoric reaction of movie-going ecstasy is directed toward the theatrical presentation. I imagine a lot will be lost when the movie is witnessed on home theater systems, so my grade speaks specifically toward my IMAX 3D experience, and I wish all film lovers a chance to enjoy the film in this format.
Grade: A +