Very few people know what it feels like to be completely detached. Untethered from anything keeping you grounded or motionless. Sure, swimming underwater can provide you with a similar experience, but even then, you have the power to control your motion. The ability to stop, and not drift endlessly. Gravity is less of a movie and more of an experience as it conveys this perfectly.
A NASA crew was in the process of upgrading a satellite (which right there shows how fictionalized this story is) when a wave of debris tears through their ship. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) was tethered to an armature that was sent reeling when it violently broke from the ship. Able to free herself she flew off, spinning into the horizon with all the momentum from the freefall. This opening scene alone wonderfully conveys the tone of the movie. For this entire opening scene, the camera rarely stopped moving, if ever. The Earth was a continuously changing reference point as the camera perpetually panned.
I’ve taken plenty of physics classes in my life. I have a good idea of how space works. How the gravity and friction I’ve never been without is absent. Still, no one can truly understand something until they experience it. Unless Richard Garriott or Space X ever get their commercial space liners going, and affordable, I never will. The constantly panning camera kept the shots unoriented. As Stone spun free, her view changed from the Earth, miles below, and the surrounding fast emptiness of space. Coupled with the superior audio engineering, I was completely enthralled.
Honestly, most times I don’t notice the surround sound. Maybe it’s a product of being regularly present, but most times I never feel like someone is speaking in front of me, there’s an explosion behind me, etc. Here, the direction of sound was rapidly changing, giving the surround sound purpose along with immersing me. While it was used brilliantly, the sounds delivered were equally as important. The radio chatter, the gasps of air as she panicked, the muteness when encompassed by the void, all perfect.
At it’s core, Gravity is a survival story. A similar one could be told about someone at sea, in the arctic, etc. That isn’t a knock against the movie, because that wasn’t the purpose. This is more of a thought experiment, trying to convey the feeling of helplessness and lack of control. On that front, it exceeds brilliantly. Every piece needed to come together for this to work. Thankfully, it all did. Bullock was captivating as the determined Ryan while George Clooney perfectly delivered the cocky bravado of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski. The cinematography was thoroughly thought out, working hand in hand with the audio to deliver an immersive experience. More impressive was how the movie was only a few scenes. Director Alfonso Cuarón showed his mastery of perspective.
My only complaint were how some effects looked fake. A few items were obviously CG’ed in which stuck out against the other interactable ones floating around Stone. Also, a few times Clooney looked like his face was mapped into the suit as he faded into the distance. That might be a byproduct of accuracy though as astronauts typical look unreal from the lighting in the helmet.
SPOILERS! There was some controversy about Stone’s fate, with some suggesting she died during her hallucination in the third act. That thought didn’t occur to me because it would juxtapose the other themes of the film. This wasn’t intended to be a mindbending mystery. It was intend as a visceral experience. Then again, art is meant to be interpretive, so take from it what you will.
Gravity will easily be in theaters for some time. If you have any interest, make a point to see it there.
The ultimate video game movie.