Gravity’s title reveals its simplicity. The film primarily depicts forces of nature, but the titular phenomenon doesn’t drive the plot forward so much as it defines the parameters in which the story unfolds. Gravity truly is an examination of the ‘fight or flight’ response. When faced with a situation that is so clearly life or death, how far would you go to survive?
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission, led by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and accompanied by two other astronauts. When a cloud of renegade space junk separates them from the shuttle and eliminates their contact with Mission Control, they must rely on themselves to try and get home.
This is easily the first film since Avatar I would recommend purely based on the visuals on screen. And while it may not seem as big of a leap forward as James Cameron’s pop sci-fi film or say, Jurassic Park, the amount of innovation and thoughtfulness that was put into committing this story to the screen is self-evident. Director Alfonso Cuarón has always been a wizard of film technology (sorry for the obligatory Prisoner of Azkaban reference) but Gravity takes it to the next level. Everything going on behind the scenes here is necessary to tell this story, but it also feels like this story was created as an excuse to design and showoff the technology behind it.
And yet it pays off. Spaceflight and zero gravity look as natural as can be, while the grand vistas of our home planet fill the screen in a truly awesome way. The detail in both the foreground and background is lavish, making small distant objects identifiable against both shadows and star fields. Orbiting around the Earth is a lifeless expanse, with cold machines drifting as tenuous human outposts. And while it is sad that the US barely has a manned flight program at this point in time, Gravity reminds us of the tenacity of all we have achieved so far, and the bravery of anyone willing to go into this harsh environment.
Gravity showcases Cuarón’s technical mastery and keen visual eye, but the performances of its small cast are just as vital. Sandra Bullock imbues Dr. Stone with a crucial humanity that makes it all to easy to empathize with her. I would argue that a weakness of the film is revealing a bit too much of Dr. Stone’s backstory. I realize this may read like a nitpick, but the placement within the film is a bit odd as well, and ultimately feels unimportant since the character doesn’t need any more motivation than just surviving. In fact, with the extremes of being stranded miles above the planet ever present, any time the film veers away from this immediate danger feels more like a distraction than a time to catch a breath.
It’s not so much that Gravity is a deep film, it doesn’t have to be. But the humanity is the focus here, on the edge of where we live. It’s a simple concept wonderfully executed.
All of this melds to achieve a thrill ride-worthy experience that must be seen firsthand to appreciate. So see Gravity. See it on the biggest screen you can find.