Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón Written by: Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón Starring: Sandra Bullock & George Clooney
Oscar Nominations: 10 Best Picture, Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Editing & Best Original Score.
“Sit back, enjoy the ride, you gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start living life…”
Gravity can be both dismissed and exulted by calling it a “ride.” To watch Ryan Stone (Bullock) struggle for survival in space (following endless collisions that keep the screenplay as propulsive as it is episodic) is a audiovisual marvel that would nevertheless feel quite at home in a Universal Studios theme park. But to even type that sentence is a disservice to Cuarón’s film. Hasn’t cinema depended on offering us rides to places far (far away) and near (no place like home)? Gravity, a truly immersive experience feels like a bridging together of the two strands of narrative cinema that have jostled for primacy since cinema’s inception. On the one hand, the film is a series of magic tricks and illusions that even in their adherence to verisimilitude and realism cannot help but recall Meliés’s penchant for the fantastic: this is no trip to the moon, but we’re clearly among a beautifully rendered starry sky. On the other hand, with its seemingly sentient camerawork that brushes aside solid barriers as it follows Stone wherever she may float, the film places itself squarely within a visual tradition of recording the “real”: we may be better equipped as audience members than Lumière’s to handle a train’s impending arrival, but Gravity works hard to make us flinch, agonize and duck whenever space debris finds its way back into the frame.
Thus, while the film has the mechanics and structure of a ride (with a nicely cathartic ending that plants us firmly back on earth), it also feels squarely cinematic and a great example of the early promise of the medium. Indeed, despite a score that overstays its welcome, the film mostly does away with dialogue and sound effects finding instead a beauty in images (Bullock floating as a baby on womb, the dazzling view of earth from above, a spinning miniature figure against an encroaching darkness) that embraces the spirit of cinema’s early years. The film’s clunky on-the-nose dialogue works just as effectively as those inter-titles of cinema’s early years, giving us both obvious yet necessary information: it moves the plot forward and offers sketches of the latent spirituality that guides the piece even as it feels detached from the polished beauty of the film as a whole. No line feels more exemplary of this than Kowalski’s (Clooney) advice to Stone at a crucial moment in the film’s climactic scene to “Sit back, enjoy the ride, you gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start living life.” He may as well be talking to the audience. A-