Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity

By Sati. Sunday, October 13, 2013 , , , , , , , ,
(spoilers!)

If you told me that one day I'll be grateful Avatar existed, I wouldn't believe you. But I am now. Why? Because if it wasn't for Avatar and the advancement of technology it carried with it, we wouldn't have Gravity. And unlike the boring, empty and ridiculous spawn of James Cameron, Gravity is a beautiful, emotionally affecting cinematic masterpiece.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone - tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness.
There is nothing simple about Gravity - both in terms of how the movie is made and the story itself. It only appears simple - 90 minutes of Sandra Bullock trying to survive in outer space. But the film is loaded with so much meaning - the beauty of it all is that because the two characters are so likable and seemingly painted with broad strokes, anyone can find something that will allow you to relate to them.

Dr. Stone and Matt are polar opposites - she is detached, scared, fragile. He is experienced, calm and suave. Ryan is shifting through life - she lost her little daughter and ever since it happened she simply works and then drives her car aimlessly, listening to the radio only to hear someone speak, probably because she doesn't want to feel alone but she is in too much pain to reach out to anyone in her life.
The fact that the heroine of the film is basically half-alive, as she has no real reason to keep going and every reason to end her life, is very interesting. Normally in movies like this one the hero is not going through existential dilemmas - he just keeps going and he wants to survive. Here Ryan is placed in a situation where she needs to make a decision - give up or keep going. Die or live.

I see a lot of people complaining about Clooney in this movie - they say he is not doing anything. That is not true. First of all as great as Bullock is here, I can imagine someone else doing a good job in the role, but I cannot imagine anyone else as Matt. Clooney just caries so many positive associations with him - he is such a likable, charismatic and warm guy, when you see him in the movie you transfer your feelings for the actor to the character he is playing.
Robert Downey Jr. was originally cast in that role and as much as I adore him, he would be wrong for the part. He is much too cocky and he doesn't have Clooney's warmth. Because of how nice of a guy Matt is and the fact he is an experienced astronaut we feel safe when he is in the frame. His cool approach to everything and positive energy make us feel secure. And because he is played by Clooney who we saw playing good guys so well so many times before, all of that is only heightened.

This is why the moment when Ryan is thrown out of Matt's protection is so horrifying. She is a novice and suddenly she is thrown into space - she is spinning over and over again, she is terrified and alone - but the moment when she loses contact with Matt is the scariest part. He would know what to do.
I really adored the scene where he flies over and rescues her after we momentarily fell into despair along with Ryan. And the chemistry between Clooney and Bullock is just lovely. Clooney's character and his personality is actually crucial here - he is a flawless good guy and a hero who sacrifices his life to save Ryan. And even when he knows he is going to die he still finds beauty in what he loved - space. He puts on his favorite song and just savors every moment he has left.

But the reason he is so crucial is that because of him Ryan decides to fight. He is the reason why Ryan realized something that we so often forget - how precious human life is. Matt, someone who loved life gave up his so that Ryan could go on. And it's only after she hallucinates him telling her to keep fighting and go home that she decides not to give up.
Matt's words and his sacrifice make such a profound impression on Ryan probably because she didn't realize how to keep going. And Matt told her - just keep trying, just stand up and really live. Ryan has every disaster thrown at her and bad luck throughout the movie but she overcomes all of this. She can go on. She doesn't need to give up. She even manages to access the information that will ultimately save her life - Matt says the words, but it's Ryan who is subconsciously aware of what to do. Was Matt a hallucination in that scene? Or maybe he was a ghost? No matter which one you choose, it just works.

But this probably wouldn't work on it's own if it wasn't for conversation Ryan has prior to the scene in which she makes her decision. She is trying to communicate with Houston but she accidentally picks up on some man's transmission from Earth. They don't speak each other languages but they still manage to communicate. This is the film's most beautiful moment that truly brought tears to my eyes - Ryan's simple need to talk to someone, anyone and the random man giving her comfort just by listening to her was incredibly stunning and emotionally charged scene.
That scene also had a very brave moment for Bullock - she hears dogs barking in the background and she wants to communicate with them too so she barks and howls. Something that could have easily become laughable was profound and moving. And then she hears baby cry and remembers her dead child. She gives up and wants to die. And then the hallucination kicks in.

I found it interesting how Cuaron, in addition to Ryan finally choosing to live, decided to show Ryan overcoming each of the elements - she is running out of air, fire breaks out, her capsule falls into water, she has difficulty walking on Earth. Ryan manages to survive all of that, which I'd like to think was Cuaron way of saying that the human being is so incredible, resourceful and courageous even mother nature can't defeat that. We adapt. And we move on.
What I found beautiful was how even though almost entire movie is set in space the people in the movie never felt insignificant. It's scary when you think about the vastness of space - it's indescribable. No oxygen, no gravity, no sound. Just cold and unforgiving void. Yet because we spend this whole film with Ryan and we get to know Matt, the people never seem like they are just one of the billions who will come and go, while space stays the same. Those are people with experiences, memories, lives...Matt's stories, Shariff's photograph of his family and Ryan's grief. Nothing about them is insignificant.

The film has a lot of symbolism loaded in it - various religious icons make an appearance. All those hints and nods to religion - Matt trying to communicate with Houston even though the satellites are down, talking because "someone may be listening" - were very interesting. The enormity of space is one thing but the fact that the people still believe in something more than what they see even if they are literally up there in the sky, is only a testament to the wonder that is a human being and the power of faith.
Another layer of the movie was the rebirth symbolism. After finally finding her way to the Russian station, Ryan can finally breathe and she takes off her suit and assumes fetal position. It's such a beautiful scene and the way it is shot only added to it - like much of the film it's an unbroken take. Because of Bullock's slow movement you can practically feel the relax and the relief. Of course that little moment to take a breath lasts a very short while and very soon intense action resumes.

There is more of that, of course, with the capsule landing in the water and Ryan learning to walk on Earth, almost like a child. I thought it was very clever and elegant in simplicity - it also added a hopeful message to the film and made me more convinced that after what she has been through Ryan would finally be all right and she has her new beginning.
The title of the movie is very interesting. I kept wondering why they chose that one. After all, most of the film takes place in zero gravity. Also Ryan is living her life much like she moves in space - aimlessly, with nothing to grab on to, alone and scared. There is nothing pulling her back to Earth. And gravity played part in her daughter's death - she fell and hit her head, if gravity didn't exist, that wouldn't have happened.

This is already such a long review and I didn't even mention the fact that even though normally I loathe 3D it's really mandatory you see the movie in theatre in 3D version. It's astounding. From what I noticed, 3D is present in every single scene and you truly do feel as if you were right there in the movie. It's worth seeing in that format even only for a scene where Ryan's tears fly towards you.
The way this movie is filmed is indescribable. I have never seen anything like this before - normally 3D feels artificially glued to the movie, here it actually played part in telling the story as we really did feel like we were stranded in space too. Objects fly around, faster, slower, further, closer and the camera flies right along with them.

The camera work in this movie is pure magic. I tried to figure out how they made certain shots and I just can't wrap my head around this. Magic. From the camera seamlessly going through Ryan's helmet so that we are literally right there with her in her suit to Sandra Bullock really looking like she is moving in zero gravity flying in air on Russian space station to the astounding shot of pieces of the ship and her capsule flying towards Earth, this is one of the most magnificently shot films I've seen. It's simply miraculous.
Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography is also up to a different challenge as the camera work really had to be exquisite here - the film has less than 200 editing cuts and the camera frequently spins around to show us more, instead of cutting to something the camera simply makes a  turn to show you what the character is looking at. And let's not forget it's all damn visual effects. The illusion is so complete you cannot believe you are actually watching a movie. It's almost unthinkable not one second of it was shot in actual space.

Even with such an immense scale of things there is an incredible attention to detail here. Clever parallels are everywhere in the movie and there is an amazing number of scenes in which we see reflections - the most beautiful one is definitely Matt admiring Earth reflected in his helmet.
I don't usually notice sound design but my God, it was just brilliant here. Because of the long, unbroken takes we have to focus on everything that is going on in front of us and we can really pay attention. Slight changes in tone, breathing, the faintest sound of the movement the characters make are all so noticeable because there is no sound where you thought it would be - when the debris hits structures they just shatter to pieces silently because there is no sound in space.

Cuaron uses silence effectively and because of that you take even more notice of Steven Price's music when it accompanies the scene. There are two prominent themes in the movie - the triumphant, continuously building theme that plays whenever Ryan overcomes the obstacles on her way and tense theme that plays whenever something horrific happens. The score is absolutely perfect and I'm sure just like the movie it will become iconic.
Cuaron's direction is so fantastic here I'd go ahead and say he is a lock for Oscar win. The story is so well presented on screen that it just grabs you from the first scene and never let's you go. The pacing is expert and the action sequences are so breathtaking and tense that you are watching them with your jaw dropped, devouring the scene with your eyes and ears. The sequence that was the most breathtaking for me was Stone using the fire extinguisher to get to the Chinese station.

But perhaps what is the most groundbreaking thing right after the amazing look of the film and Cuaron's masterful direction is Sandra Bullock's performance. It's such convincing, emotionally profound work and you really root for her character. Bullock gets to depict every single emotion here - fear, grief, sadness, joy, hope, happiness.I cannot even begin to imagine how much preparation she did for this movie - after all she had to change the way she is moving, as if she really was in zero gravity.
That performance is also incredible given how Bullock is essentially relying on imagining everything around her. She is not really in space. She is not fighting the fire. She is not flying towards Earth in a capsule. But her performance is so convincing, that it only makes the illusion even more complete.

Gravity may actually be the big winner at the Oscars, despite being a science fiction movie. Why? I think the majority of voters are actors and this film, like no other, shows that movie stars are never going to be redundant. The film works so well because of the perfect casting. Likable actors are enough to get people to see the movie but here the casting works so well because just like we adore Clooney, people really do love Sandra Bullock, who appears to be a genuinely pleasant, down to earth person. Angelia Jolie, who refused the role twice, wouldn't be able to pull it off. She is too glamorous and too detached from ordinary people with her fancy dresses and famous husband. She is a larger than life celebrity, Bullock is simply a famous actress people adore.
I have such an admiration for people who managed to make this movie possible - and it was made for 80mln dollars which seems insanely cheap given that the visual effects in Gravity are the best I've ever seen. Furthermore, I admire Cuaron's boldness - any other director would have thrown in flashbacks to Ryan's life on Earth and probably a scene where she finds about her daughter dying to elicit more powerful response from the audience, but not Cuaron. The studio wanted him to include flashbacks but he said no. He respected his vision and he respects the audience's intelligence.

Gravity is a perfect movie - it is interesting, thrilling, entertaining, groundbreaking and unique. It is a rare blockbuster with heart. A film with grand scale that has elegance and attention to detail. A movie that is done with skill and intelligence. A visual spectacle with expert pace that will make you feel like you are floating in space. A breath of fresh air, a classic in the making and truly life-affirming miracle.
Gravity (2013, 90 min)
Plot: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón, 
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
RELATED POSTS:
 

44 comments:

  1. Right now, it's my favorite film of the year. And I'm going to say this again. If Chivo doesn't win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. I'm going Kanye on the Oscars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same here. I really don't think anything will beat this movie for me this year. It's unlike anything I've seen.

      Delete
  2. Really wanna read it but I'll wait until see the movie myself!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Gravity is pure brilliance for all the reasons you mentioned, and as far as I'm concerned, is the reason why movies were invented. It's hard to know what different actors might have brought to the roles (or not), but both Clooney and Bullock are perfect in a film that's about as close to perfect as I've seen in recent memory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree. That film is truly a cinematic landmark.

      Delete
  4. Just looked at the score as I want to know as little about this as possible but my excitement levels are somewhere approaching 'Liv Tyler asking me out on a date', which is quite high! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, they should be! It's truly a unique and wonderful experience.

      Delete
  5. Great review! I didn't think much of the symbolism because the entire film just engulfed my attention, that I just sat there in awe. I initially questioned George Clooney here, but you do have a point and if it was up to him and Robert Downey Jr, I would pick Clooney for the role. Same goes for Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock, even if I wasn't entirely convinced of her acting. This should definitely win for cinematography! There are no words to describe what has transpired on-screen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Cinematography and the visual effects were so amazing, it's just insane how much work this must have been to present on screen.

      Delete
  6. Wow. Wow. Wow. That is one crazy, long, meticulous, awesome review! I also loved Gravity to bits. It's my favourite Sandra Bullock performance to date. It has my second favourite usage of modern special effects ever (my favourite being Life of Pi). Most importantly, I really rooted for the character. I felt so into her story that every little problem was the most heart-pounding experience!

    I personally didn't like Clooney in the role. He took me out of the film at times, because... well it's George Clooney! It's not his fault, but I feel like they could have benefited from a 'warm' unknown actor instead. Also, I found some of the dialogue to be a little unrealistic and cheesy. That's the only reason why I wouldn't call this a perfect film. But it's pretty darn close.

    Once again, great review :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Same here, she delivered many good performances but she was just terrific here. I was rooting for her too! She was very likable in this movie, she usually is.

      I think they got huge stars because the movie was such a gamble - expensive and taking place almost entirely in space, they needed people who will attract the audiences.

      Delete
  7. Wonderful review! I can't believe I initially didn't want to see this at all. It wasn't until people started raving about in on Twitter that I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did. I'm with you on 3D too, I normally hate it, but it should be mandatory for this movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Same here, it was only the last trailer that got me so hyped. 3D was so kick ass in this movie!

      Delete
  8. Lovely review of an awesome film. Glad you love this too Sati, it's easily in my top five, perhaps even number 1. I agree that Clooney is great in his brief scenes, the contrast of the two characters are what makes the story so interesting. The imaginary scene of the two of them made me tear up, it's funny and heartbreaking at the same time. It's miraculous indeed what Cuaron does with a simple story in a relatively short 90 min running time. Even the ending floored me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I really liked the hallucination scene it was so well made and beautifully written. The ending was so triumphant, I cannot wait to see it again!

      Delete
  9. Great review. I thought it was incredible. This film is the reason I love movies. It's what filmmaking should be. A feast for the eyes. I know there is a lot of hype about this film, but it's well deserved.

    Like you, I typically despise 3D. I think 3D is yet another ploy for hollywood to make more money on a mediocre film, but this film should be seen in 3D or the Imax. And like you, I thought 'Avatar' was basically a live action version of 'Fern Gully.' Completely pointless. But I'm glad that 'Avatar' was made just so I could see this movie.

    Lastly, I'm glad you took the film at face value. I've read several reviews about how it wasn't realistic. My response to those folks-- it's not a documentary people. It's a movie and a bloody good one at that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I agree, it's one of the best movies I've seen and such a step for science fiction.

      Absolutely, normally they just add some cheap 3D effect to get people to pay more money. Here it was really wonderfully used.

      I know nothing about physics or space travel so I can't be nit picky even if I wanted to :)

      Delete
  10. I cannot bring myself to read a review that openly says "spoilers", no matter how I try - so I'll just drop a biiig HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Cinematic Corner! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! :) Hope you'll like the movie when you get to see it!

      Delete
  11. Fantastic review! You really dug into the themes that made slightly cliche characters into amazing people on the screen. Of course Bullock & Clooney did all the leg work on selling some of those moments. Totally agree on the barking scene. It almost seems corny but in these hands it actually made an impact. I would have been so disappointed if it was Jolie instead of Bullock, but I did read that Natalie Portman also turned it down and I think I would have liked her just as much if not more in the role. Nothing can really diminish Bullock's performance though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! The barking scene was so brave and it worked so well. Such a primal need to communicate presented so beautifully on screen. Portman would be able to pull it off, she does vulnerable very well.

      Delete
  12. It was pretty amazing. And when i watched this i was dealing with some stuff,and it made me relate to the film in a way i didn't expect

    ReplyDelete
  13. Well I'm one of the minor who didn't think it was perfect. I missed one or two first scenes but I hope I didn't miss anything. I agree if Robert Downey Jr. casted he'll surely lack of warmth, plus he seem too overrated.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Outstanding review Sati. I really can't wait to get my peepers on this. Not a bad word circling the blogosphere on it either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It's definitely worth seeing in theaters, you won't regret it!

      Delete
  15. Nice review and agree with the score. I couldn't find any fault with Gravity. Easily my favorite of 2013.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Beautiful review. I absolutely adore this film. I hope it wins big at the Oscars, but I wonder if something like 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle or even Saving Mr. Banks could be the eventual winner. Either way, this film will be hard to beat for my favorite of the year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I think it has a big shot at sweeping - Academy really likes Clooney and Sandra and they are fond of something fresh - The Artist won with such Oscar baits after all.

      Delete
  17. This movie really is pure magic. Saw it for a second time last night and I was just as hypnotised by it again....even though I knew what was coming I still tensed up. Excellent review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It truly was. I cannot wait to see it again.

      Thank you!

      Delete
  18. Great review.. you touched all the good points of the movie and it feels like I have nothing else to say in my own review that will constitute as a new idea. But I will definitely touch upon the rebirth thing, it is probably my favorite symbolism in a movie I've seen in years.. Alonso did good there, he did good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved that symbolism - so simple, but so moving and beautifully used in the movie.

      Delete
  19. Wow, epic review! Very nice work, Sati. I'm glad I made Gravity my first IMAX film -- it was a great experience. I had a few issues with the script, but I agree that Bullock and Clooney were phenomenal in this. I couldn't imagine RDJ or Jolie in their roles... no way they could pull them off like they did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! :) Exactly, the casting was just brilliant here. I think Clooney here was the best casting decision I saw in any movie this year.

      Delete
  20. I really enjoyed this post, Sati. Well done, as always.

    I completely agree with your take on Clooney and Bullock. Clooney's warmth and charm make even certain death seem not that bad really. He's just so calm and charming, he can make you believe that anything is impossible.

    And Bullock, holy shit. I've always liked her as a person, and clearly she's a solid actress, but this? This was perfection. Not that awards matter, but if she took one home for The Blind Side, they might want to give her three for this one. Incredible. She's so vulnerable, so on the fence, I was repeatedly crushed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!

      I really adored his character here. He was so well cast in that role - he has so much charm so when the character is also supposed to be charming the effect it has on me is, well, perspiration :)

      I really hope she will get awards love for this one. Then again I have not seen Blue Jasmine yet and apparently Blanchett is fucking killing in this one.

      Delete
  21. Good review Sati, as good as the movie itself, ahah :) Gravity entertained a lot and this was spectacular. It's definitely cinematic masterpiece. One of the bests this year.

    I've to say that your posts always look stunning & especially this one :))

    ReplyDelete
  22. Best looking film of the year. I actually felt like I was in space. Only way to see this is in a theater. It would not be the same experience at home watching on TV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I felt like I was in space too! :)

      Delete