“Gravity” comes down to cinematic brilliance

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to slowly suffocate in space?

After watching Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s near-perfect masterpiece, Gravity, you will have a visceral understanding of what it would be like to slowly lose oxygen 600 km above Earth.

Where does one begin in describing a film of this magnitude?

The premise is simple enough: a routine space mission to repair the Hubble Telescope becomes a mission to survive when deadly debris from an exploded Russian satellite comes hurtling straight for the shuttle.  It is the first time in space for rookie astronaut, Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock in the greatest performance of her career) and it is also supposed to be the last mission for space veteran Matt Kowalski (played with devilish ease by George Clooney).

Spinning in space. Photo courtesy of http://wegotthiscovered.com/movies/gravity-stills-show-sandra-bullock-george-clooney-floating-space/

Spinning in space. Photo courtesy of http://wegotthiscovered.com/movies/gravity-stills-show-sandra-bullock-george-clooney-floating-space/

But things go wrong, fast.  Before Stone or the audience knows it, most of the crew is dead and Stone is spinning backwards into a vast abyss of blackness.  She’s alone and so is the audience.

This is one of the many triumphs of this film: through masterful direction Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) seamlessly draws the viewer into the emotions of Bullock’s Dr. Stone.  The audience feels her isolation when things go wrong. And when she starts to run out of oxygen, so do we. 

A huge part of why Gravity is so successful at pulling the audience in is due to the film’s stunning visuals. Everything in this film looks real, yet utterly beautiful.  Unlike so many films in 3D, the 3D elements in Gravity never distract from the film itself; instead they subtly enhance the overall visuals.  With Gravity, Cuarón proves that he has the technical capabilities of the likes of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Photo courtesy of http://thefilmstage.com/news/go-behind-the-scenes-of-alfonso-cuarons-gravity-with-batch-of-stills-featuring-sandra-bullock-george-clooney/

Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Photo courtesy of http://thefilmstage.com/news/go-behind-the-scenes-of-alfonso-cuarons-gravity-with-batch-of-stills-featuring-sandra-bullock-george-clooney/

Is this a perfect film?  Not quite.  There are a few instances where Stone’s monologues give a little too much away about how resolved she is to survive. The resulting dialogue clunks a little. In these moments, less would have been more.  And Stone faces so many survival challenges right up until the final scene that it actually strains the viewer’s suspension of disbelief in the last moments.

But these are minor snags in a film that is nevertheless brilliant.  What designates it as such is not the extraordinary cinematography (which will surely win prizes during awards season), but rather the fact that in this film, as in all of Cuarón’s films, there is a beating human heart that drives the narrative forward.  There is a poetic view of humanity and the indomitability of the human spirit at this movie’s core that elevates it to nothing short of a masterpiece.