I usually try to stay open minded when it comes to other people's opinions on movies. No, wait. That's not it. I try to, however, remember that everyone is entitled to have different taste than me. Movies are different, people are different. As many people, as many reactions to certain films. That said, occasionally I hear opinions so shockingly wrong I just roll my eyes.
When it comes to Gravity, there are two such opinions. First one - that the movie has no/very little depth. Yes, what a hollow experience. The film showing the strength of human spirit - that's just silly! The film showing the extraordinary capabilities of a human being - that's just insignificant! The film showing that even in vast space a person, something as tiny as human being, can be victorious - who cares? How is that important? A film showing that no matter what we can gather enough perseverance and courage to keep moving on.
How is that not deep? If that's not deep, I don't know what is.
Another ridiculous statement about the movie is that George Clooney is not doing anything in it. That's actually a statement one hears every time Clooney has a new movie out. It has now became acceptable or at least alarmingly common to punish that man for his transcendent charm and likability, something that channels through his work and everything he does.
That's just wrong.
Let's maybe start with the casting. Even if you are stuck in hopeless Clooney isn't doing anything delusion, you will agree that casting is very important in the movie. I bet you'll also agree Clooney was brilliantly cast here. In fact, I can think of no one else who would fit that role.
And that is precisely because of the charm he exudes that causes so many to whine about him. His charm, warmth and the feeling you know the man because you've seen him in movies for over two decades now, was necessary here. It was necessary because for the film to work and for its key scene to be believable we need to like Matt Kowalski. We need to trust him. We need to believe in everything he tells us and Dr Stone.
The film couldn't be just about Stone. She needed catalyst. And we as the audience, needed one too. She is safer when Matt is in frame - he knows things, he is more skilled, he knows what to do. And when he is gone she is more afraid. And we are too. She is on her own and we are stuck with her. When Stone is alone, she is even more alone because Matt is not there. She can either keep going and not let his sacrifice go to waste, even if she is too weak to keep going or she can give up and let down the last person she connected with.
There is a stunning moment in the scene where Ryan talks about her dead daughter. The scene begins with Matt trying to calm her down and asking her questions. He has his music playing, he keeps cracking jokes. He knows it's her first mission so he is trying to get her to talk so that she wouldn't panic. She reluctantly starts talking.
And when she gets to the part where her daughter died, Matt shuts down his music. He stops smiling. He is closer to the camera and we see the sadness on his face. The kind of helpless sadness when you hear about other person's tragedy and you think how unfair it is that some people have such tragedies happen in their lives. A lot has been written and said about the reflections in this movie - but the audience is reflected in characters. The things we see and hear are reflected on their faces. And in this moment, Matt's melancholic sadness and empathy mirrors the feelings audience has for Dr Stone.
There are actresses that could play Ryan besides Bullock. But is there anyone who could play Matt besides Clooney? No. Is there anyone who could play him better? No. Sometimes the fact there is someone out there just perfect for the part is the achievement on its own. You don't need just screenplay and story for a character to exist. You need the perfect actor for the part to breathe life into writing, to make someone feel like an actual person.
Gravity is unique because of many things, but one of them is the film's refusal to use flashbacks. Sure seeing Ryan find out about her daughter would be heartbreaking. But Cuaron doesn't do that. We don't leave the present for a second during the movie. And because the actors are so convincing, we believe them. Matt has all those stories he keeps telling the base and fellow astronauts. And when he tells them, we believe he has been through that. Clooney makes Matt feel like a real person, with memories, experiences and stories to tell. All of that with just his voice, with a camera spinning around him, only occasionally showing us his face close enough, so we can read what he is feeling.
I'm sure that the Academy will go for performances that are far, far from actor's best work but they are in high profile film (Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave) and most likely they will award Oscar to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyer's Club, seeing how they like transformation so much. But without Clooney, there would be no Matt. Without Matt, Ryan wouldn't go on. And without that, Gravity would be hollow.
And it's the least hollow film you'll see all year.