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 HarrisRELATED POSTS: