A magician masquerading as a filmmaker, Alfonso Cuaron delivers a fim experience that shakes our senses while it wows our sensibilities. Suspense hangs in nearly every frame of the tight 90-minute Gravity, one of the rare films that is a must-see in 3-D. Space travel serves as the ultimate backdrop for not only physical survival but as a barren landscape upon which to rebel against the notion of man being a mere speck in the grand ether. It’s always been so within this genre, only Cuaron works wonders instilling the dreadful feeling that at any given moment almost anything can happen.
Stylistically, space’s enormity vies with and simultaneously complements the severity of the predicament of space travel novice, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). The larger and more empty the landscape, the greater and more dramatic the immersive shift to the hard realities seen from the interior viewpoint inside her space helmet. At risk of coming off claustrophobic in a film where the majority of the scenes have the actors inside their helmets, Cuaron and company hold sway over the project. It’s ironic that the film is presenting new systems of technical virtuosity almost incidentally. You’ll be so immersed in both beautiful and terrifying images, you’ll eventually stop trying to figure out how Cuaron pulled this off. Starting with a dazzling 13-minute opening single shot, you soon realize the film isn’t so much out to test technologies as to test our ability to withstand anxiety, and perhaps, to test our souls.
On hand as a razzing, lovable, yet do-or-die, no-nonsense commander, is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). He tells Stone she’s the real deal on the mission; he just “drives the bus.” When the bus breaks down due to hurtling debris, Kowalski alternates his supportive, inspirational slaps on the back with valuable advice for survival. As an excellent Bullock takes over the movie, Stone’s choices resonate a struggle between self-doubt and confidence. No matter how overwhelming the simulated space portrayed, there’s always a human center.
Like space itself, Gravity never clobbers us but goes about its business quietly and eerily. It’s a special achievement that Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, and the marvelous Y Tu Mama Tambien)
is able to marry comic-strip and arthouse interests. Special effects whiz Tim Webber, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and composer Steven Price, who knows the value of understating, all contribute beautifully.
A title card at Gravity’s beginnjng reads, “There is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.” With Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron, like in all pure cinematic art, makes the impossible possible.