'Gravity' finds humanity in space, defies convention

Space, too often romanticized by action and adventure, constantly loses the reality that it is the most inhospitable and dangerous place for life. Director Alfonso Cuarón aims to never let you forget in “Gravity,” one of the most relentlessly terrifying yet beautifully crafted films of the year.

“Life in space is impossible,” declares the opening title card of the film, which follows the struggle of Ryan Stone, a rattled medical engineer played by Sandra Bullock, and Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut played by George Clooney, as they hover above Earth.

Upon repairing the technology from their spacecraft, debris from a nearby destroyed satellite unexpectedly descends chaos upon the unprepared Dr. Stone and calm Kowalski.

They are left adrift, low on oxygen, and cut off from radio communication. They are alone in the void, a silent, cold, and immutable blackness.

However for Dr. Stone, drifting through space is not far from what her life has become. For her, the personal loss she felt years prior mirrors being blown off a spacecraft whirling through vast emptiness.

In “Gravity,” space in all its mysterious glory comes to represent death, the inescapable, unknowing fate all humans have to come to terms with, whether it is the mortality of a loved one or oneself.

Opposite of space, lies the humbling beauty of Earth as massive, vibrant, and always unreachable. The juxtaposition of these two images echoes Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and creates some excellent moments of serenity.

This serenity is accomplished through silence. This unconventional sound design introduces the visuals through a dichotomy.

A muted glance of Earth and space from above the atmosphere creates a tranquility that accentuates the highly detailed spacescapes. Inversely, the lack of sound also constructs an unnerving sense of danger as various space technologies are completely decimated in total silence.

Although silence plays a large part, the implementation of sound is purposeful and sudden. Unexpected bursts of sound emerge as characters enter or exit spacecrafts in addition to the restrained magnificence of Steven Price’s soundtrack. It can sneak up on you during moments of introspection or attack you during times of great duress.

The movie revolves in only one setting with the singular motivation of survival. However, the script’s thin plot works in favor of the film by illuminating the complexity of the characters. Stripped of any extraneous details, the focus on character over plot creates an intimacy fully realized by Bullock and Clooney.

Together, these elements forge a thrilling experience that effortlessly articulates the humanity in these characters. The film is mesmerizing, pioneering some of the most ambitious technical accomplishments of 3-D cinematography and sound design.

Like Kubrick with “2001,” what Cuarón and company — specifically the visual team led by director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki — have done with “Gravity” is nothing short of groundbreaking.

Although at first the film seems to be conforming to conventional notions of the Hollywood tropes (i.e. the story takes place from the male perspective revealing how he saves the incompetent damsel) it surprises by showing the story of a dynamic female protagonist.

Dr. Stone’s journey is one of courage in the face of increasingly impossible situations. Bullock brings complexity to the role by capturing the struggle between desolation and hope in this existential realm.

Why fight when there is nothing worth fighting for? When the mourning of losing a loved one is metaphorically the same as drifting alone on the fringes of space, what is there to live for?

Cuarón and company fully realize these questions and allow the audience to answer them for themselves. But for Dr. Stone, Earth is worth returning to.

Likewise, “Gravity” is worth braving the terror and beauty of space. This is pure cinema on a masterclass level, and you owe it to yourself to watch.

Albert AndradeComment