There is something to be said about how beautiful and breathtaking the universe is, and how we’re just a thread in the fabric of the infinite cosmos. Director Alfonso Cuarón captures this all-encompassing feeling in his latest masterpiece, Gravity—out in theaters today—and also touches upon how the enormity and vastness of space evokes loneliness through its unbearable silence. In addition to that, the 90-minute film is as gripping and intense as a rocket ride.
Gravity is an achievement in the mastery of the use of digital technology and 3D. Really, the film needs to be seen in 3D—in IMAX if you can—because it is truly a unique experience. Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, the film has received worldwide accolades. Even director James Cameron, who has revolutionized 3D technology with Avatar, praised the film. “I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time,” Cameron told Variety.
The film follows two astronauts, a biomedical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first rodeo in space and veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). During their space mission, they receive word that heavy debris is heading their way, setting off a series of unfortunate events; their shuttle gets destroyed and they become the sole survivors adrift in space without contact with their home base. Ryan, guided by Matt, tries to find her way to the nearest space stations to survive—and it’s not easy; it’s terrifying.
Matt speaks with a charming Texan drawl, loves listening to country music during his spacewalks, and keeps a cheery and unflappable demeanor even through the toughest of times. He’s the ideal astronaut mirrored from the heyday of space travelers of the 1960s. Ryan, on the other hand, is stoic, speaks little words, and is petrified as hell. We later find out that Ryan’s distance is a byproduct of her losing her young daughter in a tragic accident. The plot plays a bit on the clichéd side, and although the characters do develop, they do so ever so slightly.
However, what the screenplay lacks in the dialogue—there are effective moments of deafening silence proving the old adage that “silence speaks louder than words”—makes up in facial expressions from Bullock. In one of her best acting roles, she expresses herself in panic attacks through shortness of breath and fluttering eyes. We can’t help but feel as claustrophobic as she does in her spacesuit. Cuarón co-wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás Cuarón, and in an opera of sorts, the story focuses on the emotive human experience of being in space and the psychological effects of it.
The last time we saw Cuarón work his magic was seven years ago with Children of Men, about a dystopian future of an infertile human race. The film was also a technological achievement, especially with one complex and challenging long shot of an ambush in the road. In Gravity, we see an impressive CG-heavy spectacle that is unparalleled by other films. Much of Gravity is set against a backdrop of the spectacular views of earth from space, and seeing the sunrise from such an angle is awe-worthy. It’s hard to even mentally grasp how Cuarón was able to stitch every moment together in such a seamless fashion. Everything in the movie looks real—from the shuttle to the spacesuits, which were all digitally created.
In an article in TIME, real-life veteran astronaut Marsha Ivins felt Cuarón was able to capture some things correctly. “The views of the Earth and the sunrise, the lighting on Sandra Bullock’s face (light in space is so different from light in the atmosphere)—perfect,” Ivins said. “Her body positions inside the spacecraft, the astronauts’ tether protocol during the space walks, the breathing in the helmet, even the real life, excruciatingly slow movement of the Soyuz undocking from the Space Station—spot on.”
Cuarón is also able to use silence and a musical score (from the genius work of Steven Price) with deftness. The final song that closes the end of the film and rolls out through the end of the credits is vital, audacious, and makes the audience sit through to the end.
The gravity of the film doesn’t lie in its plot, but rather in the fact that it captures the human spirit and is a triumph of impressive filmmaking, technologically.