Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Behold the technical majesty of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Watch as debris from a Russian satellite smashes into a repair operation led by an American astronaut team, sending them whizzing, floating and spinning in the beautiful, terrifying abyss. Watch it and take it in, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
I thought I did everything I was supposed to do with Gravity. I saw it in 3D, I saw it in Imax and I saw it with a virtually sold-out crowd. Why then, was it underwhelming? There is an answer to that question, and it may be hard to hear for the many who have lauded praise on the film since its triumphant festival circuit.
This is a movie that was made solely for its own tech savvy. It exists because of its technical mastery, not for any tangible idea. Cuarón uses every cinematic element at his disposal to sustain uninterrupted awe, and it is one of the few movie-going experiences in recent memory that is truly exhausting. By the time Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) hops from space station to space station and then back to (spoiler) Earth, her weariness is not just her own, but the audience’s as well.
Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona. For long stretches, though, it’s just her dealing with whatever zero gravity obstacle Cuarón can throw at her. There is a hefty bit of 3D gimmickry, more than there should be in a prestigious project like this, but for the most part it is effective as a grand aesthetic spectacle. More troubling than screws and tears floating toward the camera, though, are the number of unnecessary tracking shots of Sandra Bullock’s ass. The movie even ends on a close up of her heaving, wet-t-shirt-covered breasts.
Why? Because Gravity is Cuarón’s playground. The director of such rigorous works as Y tu mamá también and Children of Men has aimed his sights solely on the machinations of pleasure and terror, not as it applies to the characters, but to the audience. This is movie as roller coaster, and the spectacle is undeniable. It’s hard to put into words the awe of seeing a space station crumble and explode as the camera stays pinned to a twirling, panicked astronaut. She then drifts hopelessly into space, as alone as any human could ever be.
The close-up of Stone’s face that follows that sequence reflects Earth and space while her helmet fogs up. Even here, the effects do not relent. There are quiet moments in Gravity that are as visually stunning as the relentless action sequences, but even in those moments the movie felt defined by its technology rather than enhanced by it.
Many have and will likely continue to compare this to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that would be extremely misguided. Gravity attempts to justify its technological means with a human element, and who better to do this than two of Hollywood’s most charming stars? It is not a cold, calculated examination of a technological takeover, though. It is a technological takeover, and a beautiful one at that.