I have a new favorite movie this year, and it is called Gravity. The word "favorite" implies that the other movies I liked are inferior to it, or that I don't like them any more. That isn't true, really. Movies like The Kings of Summer and Pacific Rim still stand out, but Gravity is on a different plane. It is overwhelming and beautiful, terrifying and intimate, a consummately fine film.
The movie is about Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a scientist in space for the first time working to install an experimental device on a satellite. With her is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is on his last mission. Together they survive a terrible accident that leaves them floating in space, hundreds of miles above the earth.
Part of what I love about the movie is the entirely realized vision of director Alfonso Cuarón. It makes no concessions in its portrayal of the story, and results in an entirely unique viewing experience. The movie opens with a seemingly continual shot that lasts for minutes, immediately immersing us in his world. His distinctive use of the camera throughout enforces the illusion of being in space with the characters, making it one of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography I've experienced. This adds a certain level of both intimacy and terror, since in large part we are on stage with the actors. The movie feels like it is encircling the audience. Perhaps a better analogy is that the audience is the roaming camera, finding action as it happens. It is really one-of-a-kind.
The visual effects are also a key element to the movie's success, and are actually more essential to the "camerawork" than the actual camera. The sound design is also incredible. All of the technical aspects working seamlessly together allow the artistic and thematic elements to really shine. That is the other part of what I loved about it: it isn't simply the disaster/survival movie it easily could have been. It certainly has those elements, but it adds up to more. It almost seems like a combination of Castaway and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is consciously philosophical, even spiritual. It deals powerfully with concepts of mortality and rebirth, of guilt and forgiveness. Indeed, it is almost a grand parable for the entire cycle of life, ironically told where life cannot possibly exist on its own.
This all plays out with essentially two characters. This may be one of the film's biggest risks, but it is certainly one of its greatest payoffs. Sandra Bullock especially carries the emotional weight of the movie, and she does so quite well. This was pleasing to me, since she has always been inexplicably irritating to me in movies. She was my only qualm going in, but proved me wrong as soon as it got going. She brings a down-to-earth (excuse the pun) sensibility to it that brings all of us non-astronauts along for the experience. Her part is as crucial to the film as anything else.
And so I say without reservation that Gravity is worth it, all the way. It is certainly tense enough to merit watching merely for thrills, but its soulful depiction of humanity and life makes it special. I saw it in regular old 2D, but I think its 3D treatment would be worthwhile as well.
Gravity features Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and is rated PG-13 for some scary things and understandable swears.
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
by Chase Harrison