The latest film from visionary director Alfonso Cuaron came crashing down on the box office this weekend and proceeded to land itself right atop the list of best films of the year… of the decade… perhaps ever. The film stars Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and the planet Earth.
Ostensibly, Gravity is a space film; after all, it is set in space. You could even call it a space thriller, considering the excruciatingly slow-burn of anxiety to which it subjects you. I don’t know that I can comfortably call it a space film, however; at least not in the sense that we’ve ever seen before. Gravity is an entirely new frontier (pardon the pun); it pulls back the curtain on the secret of a “space film” genre that, before now, has not really been fully presented. The secret is: Murderous aliens? You don’t need them. Rebelling computers? Unnecessary. Tyrannical fascists raging on midi-chlorians and daddy issues? Fun, but you can do without those, too. The real secret of the space film genre is simply that space is fucking dangerous, in and of itself. There’s no air. There’s nothing to carry sound. Life is impossible in space. Gravity so perfectly demonstrates that, and it’s not taking place in a “near-future” or “a long, long time ago”. These events are happening right now, and Gravity lets you experience them in as close to actually being there as most of us will ever get.
Gravity doesn’t merely take place in space, though; Gravity is so well executed that it’s almost impossible to believe they didn’t actually film the damn thing in space. Much has been said about the technology that went into this film and how much of it didn’t exist until recently, and even more has been said about the idea that Gravity is a glimpse into the future of cinema. I fully agree with those sentiments, but I don’t believe nearly enough has been said about the undeniable fact that nobody other than Alfonso Cuaron could have (or would have) made this film as well as it has been made. Cuaron’s seemingly innate ability and artistic sensibilities elevate Gravity to this level. The director’s storied use of one-shots and long, sweeping pans serve Gravity in an entirely unique way. Beginning with the first scene of the film, itself a very long one-shot, you are immersed in the universe–not just the universe of the film, but the actual universe; that is the work of Alfonso Cuaron.
Looking beyond the direction, the cinematography, the sound, the lighting, the special effects, the perfect representation of physics, and the entire presentation of the film’s setting (all of which go into my above comments), Gravity is more than just a pretty face. The story of the film is very simple, yet quite moving. The film sees three astronauts on a mission; two of them are played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. This is the first time in space for Bullock’s character, while it’s the final mission for Clooney’s character who is a veteran. Some space debris leads things to go wrong–if you’ve seen the trailers, you know that–and the two of them end up alone. Clooney and Bullock manage to have fantastic chemistry, even though actual face-to-face conversation between their characters is extremely rare. The story itself would seem to be symbolic, or allegorical in nature. Because they’re in space and orbiting Earth, the debris keeps coming around and putting them in danger, so you have these people just trying their best to survive, and they keep having to deal with these same obstacles. That’s called living life. Life can sometimes seem almost impossible to live; you just go through it the best you can, and you’re periodically slammed with things like a disease, or family member’s death, or maybe you find out your dad secretly became an international drug lord; the “almost” is there for a reason, though: survival is always possible.
I can’t praise this movie enough; there are feelings it just spontaneously made me have that I’m not even sure I have the words to express. I recently watched this video about the “overview effect” that astronauts have described experiencing after seeing the Earth from orbit. All I can say is I think Gravity has the potential to affect people in that way. There’s something there, and you’re going to want to see it on a theater screen. See it in 3D, if you can; see it in IMAX 3D. Find the largest, highest definition screen you can and watch it there. It’s a cinematic event of such unnatural proportions that I would bet there’s actually an invisible force pulling you toward your nearest theater.