“Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” “In space, no one can hear you scream.” “Life in space is impossible.” Gravity does the delightfully terrifying job of backing the generally considered notion that space is not the ideal place to hang out.
Alfonso Cuarón‘s latest feature is his first since 2006’s gritty dystopian Children of Men, and it’s certainly worth the wait. The space thriller stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, part of a team including George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski who are charged with servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. When a Russian satellite is destroyed, sending debris hurtling towards the team, their shuttle is shredded and Stone finds herself drifting in space. Understandably, this is not a film for the faint of heart.
It is difficult to discuss much of the plot without giving it away, but it is fair to say that Bullock and Clooney are the only two characters for a hefty part of the 90-minute movie. They pull it off beautifully, and the performances are executed with such emotional precision that there is not a moment of boredom in the whole thing.
The lengthy production and the pioneering of a number of innovative film technologies is absolutely evident on screen – rarely has space been captured in such a spookily realistic manner. Of course, the majority of people watching the film haven’t – and won’t ever – go into space, but if they did, then Gravity is not likely to be far off from the real experience. Metal and plastic is torn and shredded, explosions carve huge gaping holes in spaceships, and characters are sent hurtling through the freezing vacuum of space – while the only sound to be heard is the panicked breaths of the lost astronauts and the heart-pounding orchestral score of the soundtrack. Star Wars this most certainly is not – you won’t be hearing any zinging lasers or booming explosions here – just a stark, lonely silence emphasising the terrifying blackness of space.
Rarely can a film be referred to as ‘groundbreaking’, but the complex, continuous shots that Cuarón is now famous for are an absolute marvel to witness. The opening sequence is one long, uninterrupted, 17-minute camera shot that awestruck audiences from the get-go. Cuarón has experimented with these long single-take sequences since 2004’s Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban, and again noticeably in Children of Men, but this is by far his most ambitious and perfectly executed project to date. If nothing else, Gravity is a wondrous technical achievement that will leave audiences reeling in their seats, thinking “how do they do that?”
The tortured past of Dr. Stone, having lost her four-year-old daughter in a tragic accident, gives way to some powerful scenes and a thought-provoking thematic undercurrent. Gravity explores life, death, spirituality, and the human psyche in such a way that conjures a celebration of good old-fashioned survival stories.
With phenomenal visual effects, solid performances from both of its actors, and a sharp script that brings it all together and taps into the universal human fears of loneliness, futility, and the inevitability of death, Gravity is an incredible experience. Gripping from the opening scene right through to the powerful, life-affirming final sequence, Gravity is a good old-fashioned adventure movie best seen in the medium for which it was intended – the cinema.