This heart-stopping depiction of the dangers of space travel is nothing short of masterful.
Already famed for his work on "Y Tu Mamá También" (2001) and "Children of Men" (2006), directorAlfonso Cuarón showcases every one of his talents in the harrowing space thriller “Gravity.” He offers his own tribute to the wonders of space exploration as well as its overlooked and frightening dangers, portrayed to an unforeseen degree of realism.
Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two American astronauts performing shuttle maintenance during a routine spacewalk. A wave of satellite debris swarms their ship and wreaks absolute havoc, separating Ryan from her shuttle and sending her careening into free-drift. Hopeless to change her direction, she tumbles into a black void. Her oxygen runs deathly low. Inevitability settles in.
The film prefaces by reminding its audience that sound does not carry in space. This is crucial to setting up a particular atmosphere. When shrapnel collides with the
shuttle, fireworks of metal explode on the screen without a single noise but screams over the radio. The very sight of the disaster takes away our breath, but the very absence of natural sound creates an unsettling scene. This realistic portrayal of physics working in space figuratively creates an unfamiliar and chilling atmosphere in a place where it is literally almost nonexistent.
Just as the space team escapes danger, it strikes again. And again. And again. Any opportunity to flee space and return to Earth is stopped by an unforeseen issue. This terrible string of bad luck, rivaling that of Apollo 13, disorients us. Murphy’s Law never relents chipping away at our sanity.
Seemingly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," Cuarón draws out every shot as long as possible, cleverly masking whatever cut he can. It is difficult and unorthodox filmmaking, but this unfamiliar setting warrants a particular editing style (or lack thereof). This congruency between setting and editing gives "Gravity" another dimension of suspense, turning minutes into agonizing hours. The low number of cuts, the absence of nearly all natural sound, Murphy's Law stopping progress at every turn, the hopelessness of the event – everything combines into a frightening movie experience.
Scary as this may be, beautiful details balance the film, moreso beyond shots of Earth at sunrise and sunset from space. The film's most beautiful shot is a full shot of Ryan floating in a cylindrical chamber, having narrowly escaped death (for now). She curls into sleep with a cable cleverly staged flowing to and behind her stomach. The sun radiates through a small window centered in the background. She sleeps in an embryo--a baby in the cradle of life, afloat in a place where life cannot exist on its own.
Walking outside the theater after “Gravity” is surreal. You notice your feet pulled to the ground. Looking at the night sky feels not threatening, but sublime. Despite just being shown everything that can go wrong, you long to return to space.
Already one of 2013's top films, "Gravity" is a visually breathtaking and emotionally powerful movie that does not discourage space travel; it celebrates it.
This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on October 6, 2013.