Movies are, in essence, a voyeuristic experience that is aided by the often empty promise of brief transference and thin fantasy. Look left and look right, and all we see are tacky walls and our fellow man as he scarfs, sniffles, coughs, and texts. Sometimes, it can be a challenge to apply the blinders and fall into a movie, but some movies make it easier than others.
Gravity does not allow itself to be an exercise in voyeurism. Not for one second. We’re not watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney claw toward survival while stuck out in the bleak and black of space after a debris storm from a missile strike on a nearby satellite knocks them free from their simple mission and the safety of their ship.
This is something else. It’s a magic trick. A finger snap and we’re floating beside them, staring down the hypnotically beautiful gaping mouth of the great uncharted and under explored endlessness.
Writer/director Alfonso Cuarón brings us into his film with a sense of visual artistry that is without peer and he both keeps us off balance and at full attention with a surprising, tense, and human story about how small we are when lost out in the terrifying dark.
The camera dances and floats like Ali in his prime. We’re up close and behind the visor with Bullock as she struggles to breathe while falling and spinning without the hope of a bounce or an end. The occasional use of a POV perspective serves Cuarón well, as do the shots when he simply and slowly pulls back to reveal the majesty of the earth as seen from the heavens. In those shots, there is no sense of what continents are down below as the land masses have no easily recalled identity. Our world looks foreign then, and for a moment, you imagine that from that perch among the stars, our problems must look like ant hills on fire.
If there is a minuscule knock on this film, it is that George Clooney plays George Clooney, but Sandra Bullock astonishes. We’ve never seen her as vulnerable, as frail, or as strong as she is during these 90 minutes. This is a metamorphosis and the performance of her life.
People have laughably mentioned Open Water — a boring ocean horror film that bounced the check that it’s premise wrote — as a comp for Gravity, but doing that fails to denote that that film was essentially about a fight for survival by two people who meant about as much to the audience as a floating styrofoam cooler.
Contrasting that, we care a great deal about Bullock’s character (Dr. Ryan Stone) as she works through a gauntlet of seemingly insurmountable challenges while fighting back the inner demons that whisper for her to accept her seemingly obvious fate. Apollo 13 and Castaway are more adequate comparisons — especially in that they also take a well known and affable actor and throw them into jeopardy, twisting the guts of an audience that has a built in affection for them — but Gravity is less antiseptic than the former and more action packed than the latter.
This movie defies comparison and the high expectations that have been planted by the pre-release buzz. It is graceful, frightening, tragic, trailblazing, inspirational, and thrilling. Gravity fulfills every promise made to us about the power and potential of cinema. It is an experience that is valuable, unmissable, and unforgettable.
Gravity is in theaters now. I recommended you see it in 3D Imax if at all possible.