By Andrew Sheldon
Some reviewers will urge you to enter Gravity with your mind turned off, ready for a thoughtless pop-corn flick. Prior to seeing it, this seemed like a daft suggestion given the film comes from the Director of Y Tu Mamá, También and 2006’s unrelenting Children of Men. That’s not to say Gravity doesn’t function as high-octane, Hollywood brain-rot. It does to such a degree that reviews remain glowing despite its apparent emptiness. But the reasons this film speaks to so many people and has such a widespread effect of terror are the ideas just beneath the beautiful 3D.
The title, which is the first image of the film, is also our first clue of subtext. Cuaron is letting us know there’s something to the irony of naming a film that takes place in outer-space “Gravity.” Given that the narrative occurs in a landscape of zero-gravity, the title must be referring to the secondary, more general definition, “heaviness or weight”: A life or death situation that has “gravity.”
The film’s terror lies in this juxtaposition as the finite nature of life collides with the infinity of space. We perceive our lives as being full of “gravity,” but by focusing on a single person fighting for her life in the vast expanse of space, Gravity raises the curtain and ultimately asks the audience to consider the extent to which their life has meaning. This is the underlying, universal fear of the film and possibly why it seems to speak to so many.
The initial interplay between Matt Kowalski (played effortlessly by George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock at her best) exhibits a coping mechanism for the existential quandary at the heart of the movie: He begins telling stories of past experiences on Earth, which – as we learn from Houston – have been recited endlessly. Later, in an effort to comfort Stone, Kowalski asks her to recite details of her life at home.
As entertainment, Gravity grabs you quick and doesn’t let go for the entirety of it’s 90 minutes. It’s this compromise between a film of intellectual depth and a high-octane thriller where the film falters. There are moments of stillness that contrast with the intense action, but they are short and few.
It’s impossible not to compare this film to 2001: A Space Odyssey, another visually groundbreaking film that deals with similar themes but takes the time to offer moments of silent haunting. By contrast, Gravity’s narrative runs the danger of becoming just another “Murphy’s Law” action movie akin to another claustrophobic Bullock movie: Speed.
In Cuaron’s Children of Men, it was these periods of silence that were more haunting than the action including Key, a character that symbolizes hope for the entire human race, singing outside of an abandoned school. Or consider an entire battle halting at the sound of a crying baby. Since Gravity is almost entirely built on these types of juxtapositions, there are plenty of opportunities for those moments of poignancy, but ultimately its peaks and valleys are compressed by its running time.
Still, I cannot recommend this movie enough. Well acted and visually breathtaking, Gravity works as a film that both entertains and offers something to consider. See it. See it in 3D IMAX if possible. And bring your brain if you’d like.