by Alex Carrigan
Several months ago, I saw the first teaser trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Now, when I went to watch the teaser, I didn’t really know what I was expecting. Cuarón is a director I really like, but it has been a long time since he released a film. Children of Men was the last thing he directed in 2006, a film that really grabbed me with his auteur style and incredible direction. Since Children of Men was released, I got the chance to look into more of his films. In addition to watching the fantastic Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (probably the best of the Harry Potter series, although the most different from his usual directorial style), I watched Y tu mamá también, the Mexican road trip film that established Cuarón’s international presence as a director.
In films like Children of Men and Y tu mamá también, Cuarón employed many similar techniques. Shots run for several minutes without the camera cutting away, an element of social satire and criticism pervades what at first appears to be a simple genre film, and a sense of alienation and loneliness is found one or more of the main characters. These elements are all ones I love to see when watching a movie, but they are very fragile elements. Go too far in one direction, and these elements can be either gimmicky (using long shots in action sequences where it becomes obvious the actors are waiting for their cue), hamfisted (using social satire in a way that hangs a neon sign that says “Look! I’m critical of something!”), or just complete failures (Gee, maybe the socially isolated loner is alone because he/she is really annoying.) Obviously, I was curious how Gravity would handle these elements of Cuarón’s style as he tackled a different genre: space adventure.
That’s when I saw the teaser. Once it was over, I immediately closed the browser window, trying to get my breathing back to a regular pace and to wipe away the tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
Gravity is an insanely simplistic film, one that actually amazed me with how basic the premise was. During a spacewalk, two astronauts, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), find themselves stranded. The Russians blew up a defunct satellite and the debris drifts toward their shuttle as they attempt to repair the Hubble telescope. Being the only ones alive and without any contact from Mission Control, Kowalski and Stone are left to drift through space, trying to find another satellite to board and return to Earth, all while their oxygen begins to run out and they have ninety minute windows before the debris circumnavigates the Earth and assaults them again.
There were times I could sit back in my chair and enjoy my concessions, but there were others where I had to set them down, sit forwards, grab my wrist, and mutter obscenities under my breath as the characters were sent hurtling towards danger. The movie gave me breathing room, but never made me feel too comfortable. The quieter moments were some of the best moments in the film as they allow the viewer to soak in the atmosphere. The characters are in danger, but the Earth behind them looks magnificent. You can see where it’s daytime and where it is nighttime on Earth, you can see the stars and the sun in the distance, and you can feel the serene nature of space.
I saw this movie in 3D, and I think I made the right choice. The film is one that shoves the viewer into the action, and makes them a part of it. Many sequences place the point of view directly as the characters are experiencing it. When Stone is sent spinning into space, the camera freezes on her face. We see the reflection of the Earth appear and disappear as she rotates. We then move into her head, and now we are spinning. We are Stone in these moments, and we become aware of the danger. We now understand the severity of the situation, and because we have experienced it, we now want to get back to Earth as much as they do.
Overall, Gravity was everything I hoped it would be and more. The film was a visual feast, had real tension and atmosphere, and ultimately had a very human story. This is honestly one of the best films I’ve seen in 2013, and probably one of the best 3D films made yet. The film gives some statistics about space before the title sequence, and it frightens me to think that such a place exists. But at the same time, I’m fascinated by it. Something like this exists, and it’s sublime.
I mean, not that I’m going up there any time soon. I’ll wait until the technology is safer.