When anyone has asked me what my absolute fear is they would’ve gotten two answers: The ocean and outer space. The unending openness, mysterious silence mixed with the inability to know what’s going on above me has lead me to say “Nu-uh, you ain’t getting me in no water or no rocket”. ‘Gravity’ not only reinforces my fears in ‘told you so’ fashion, but also contradicts it by projecting the quiet majesty and awe inspiring visual Wonderland of space in what is the most beautiful movie ever made.
And no, I don’t mean beautiful as in ‘OMG that cake was beautiful’. The opening scene of the Earth simply orbiting through space as a space ship comes gracefully floating in the distance, then zooming in as astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) work on the craft. Director Alfonse Cuaron takes a page out of his ‘Children of Men’ book and uses a single shot technique and Kowalski floats and tilts around the craft and focuses on Stone just doing her job. He favors the constant visualization of the peacefulness and silence of space. There’s no doubt there are direct inspirations from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with a focus on the detail behind them that complement the realism of the environment. It is a jaw-dropping marvel to behold as he manages to use orbiting camera angles and hints of the horrors to come keep the background as interesting as the foreground.
But, in that same shot, Cuaron masterfully transforms that tranquility of floating around into utter panic when the remnants of a nearby satellite unexpectedly barrel towards the crew. You don’t see it coming, but you know it is. I literally grabbed the sides of my already too-short hair and scrunched up my legs as the station was ripped apart and Stone goes soaring through the air—all within seconds. Also like ‘2001’ there is no noise other than the heart-pounding score that replaces the sounds of explosions we’ve all become accustomed to hearing in those Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em robot movies. I was taken by complete shock and terror not because this was my fear incarnate, but because my senses had no idea how to react.
Though this is a movie in space, this is a true tale of survival and, as her character Stone continues to glide throughout space, Bullock continues to show why she is a true actress by defining what acting really is: the art of response. Everything that happens to her is approached with a natural spontaneity that is key to any actor’s performance but is so difficult to approach, and even rarer to find. Not only is her panic and exhaustiveness the work of true veteran, but everything from hearing about her tragic past until we see her at her most triumphant is done with such heart-breaking skill it is obvious she is one the best actresses of our time. Like the stunning visuals surrounding her, her performance is a wonder to behold.
But the true star is Cuaron, who was able to sync magnificent performances with the ground-breaking visuals. Whether it was seamlessly transitioning from a rotating view of Stone to the inside of her helmet, looking out towards Earth, this is the work of a genius who doesn’t favor one star over another—pun intended. Every time Stone tries to grab ahold of something but misses had me chomping at the bits (seriously, you should see my nails) in a nervous wreck as well as astounded wonder that a movie could so well blend set-pieces and an actor’s performance. In doing so he has created a masterpiece amongst his already existing sea of triumphs. Like ‘Life of Pi’ he is able to take images we’ve fallen asleep to in science classes and turn them into Renaissance artworks. A style that recalls both Kubrick and Hitchcock, this is the work of true imagination and care that proves filmmakers will never lose that spark of creativity.
But as the movie came to a thunderous conclusion—Stone washing to shore, reborn in the mud and trying to readjust to Earth’s gravity— I came to learn something I didn’t expect: this movie was beautiful in a broader sense, not just the craftsmanship, but what it represents for the audience watching a movie. ‘Gravity’ has a power that was able to literally elicit physical responses from me. I gasped, curled in a ball, laughed, covered my mouth in awe, and even had tears of joy in the movies final moments. This is what movies are supposed to do, and why we pay to see them like this. Sure it may look embarrassing to move around as much as I did, but ‘Gravity’ is like a doctor hitting you on the knee with that hammer thing. It just hits an emotional nerve you can’t help but react to.
No movie-going experience in a very long time has been able to get out of me such a response. I realized this on the way home and continued to ponder it for some time. There was no contemplating of the movies meanings, but just trying to grasp that was I saw was nothing short of an astoundingly simple sci-fi thriller that rivals ‘2001’, ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘Star Wars’ infused with a survival tale as good as ‘Cast Away’ or ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ made with the passion of someone who knows what it’s like to truly love going to the movies. In short, it’s a perfect, mind-blowing movie that challenges all others in every field. Though I didn’t want to describe it so bluntly at first, yes, this is truly a beautiful movie. But there’s still no way in Hell I’m going up there.