The cosmos has never looked so beautiful—or so menacing.
By Stuart Harris
The fortune of being grounded to the earth is something that one might take for granted until viewing a film like Gravity.
Film has long found ways to romanticize a vastness the likes of which we may never fully comprehend. However, Gravity doesn’t have to project beyond our galaxy to keep us firmly on the edge of our seats. It only goes as far as Earth’s thermosphere, where any wonderment of the nature outside our world quickly falls away to harsh reality.
The film is the latest labour of acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous film credits include the popular screen adaptations of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men. He’s poured a head-turning one hundred million dollars into this project, and the result is a consistently thrilling space drama that relies on an extraordinary visual scope to drive its deceptively simple narrative. One is almost tempted not to call this a movie at all. It is an experience, a relentless chain of action and consequence that could only speak so well for itself in the medium of film. It’s probably the first film since James Cameron’s Avatar that must be seen in theatres or IMAX in 3D for full effect, even if it’s just for the satisfaction of saying, “Yeah, I’ve seen it. Boy, did I ever see it.”
Whereas Avatar’s visual spectacle often felt like an escape from its questionable narrative execution, Gravity represents a rare case when the cinematic action carries the story as much as the actors do. There is no antagonist other than the character given to the interstellar setting, which is done through alternating viewpoints. In some instances, the cinematography paints a hauntingly beautiful picture of space 600 kilometres above sea level. In between, we’re thrust into the helmets of the astronauts at its mercy, or the painstakingly detailed, claustrophobic interiors of orbiting spacecraft.
Immersion is completed by way of the sound design. Steven Price’s soundtrack plays a large part in creating emotional resonance during key moments. When we don the space suits, we can feel the pressure of every breath, every vibration as we’re jostled, watching in awe as a space station is ripped to pieces in silence before our eyes.
There’s never a moment where the gravity of the conflict isn’t weighing down upon our shoulders.
If all this leaves you wondering what the story concerns, don’t go getting any out-of-this-world ideas. The narrative is a simple one, and to say anything more would ruin the experience. It’s a tale of survival and resilience, of isolation in the face of the universe (think Jack London, in space). The players are few, but stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney admirably keep our attention and empathy through a minimalistic 90 minutes. Characterization might seem slight, but one thing is clear: These actors aren’t playing astronauts, they’re playing human beings facing an indomitable force, with devastating impact.
You could argue the film’s negligible scientific implausibilities, but it’d be hard to argue this isn’t a film well worth watching. It’s about as close to space as you’ll get from the comfort of a chair. It’s likely as close as you’ll ever want to get.