Gravity. 2013. Alfonso Cuarón, director. Mexico.
Seven years after Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón has returned with Gravity. In Gravity, a foreign country explodes one of its satellites and this sets in orbit debris which destroys an American spacecraft and leaves several astronauts adrift in outer space.
The services of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have again been enlisted. Lubezki is considered a “weaver of visual miracles” and Gravity continues in this tradition. In Children of Men, a complicated single-shot scene lasted some twelve minutes and left persons curious as to how it could possibly have been shot. Cuarón jokes that Lubezki had him promise secrecy. People are similarly baffled by Gravity. How does one manufacture, for example, the appearance of persons floating in an atmosphere where gravity is so very differently experienced? One reaction highlights the innovation at work within Gravity by opining that “there are levels of Hollywood trickery in service to this film that I am pretty sure involve classified technology”. That is a high compliment.
There is a question as to what is plausible in Gravity and what is not. All sorts of articles by all sorts of experts have been written on the matter. For example, when astronaut Stone removes herself from her spacesuit and floats about in the compartment in which she has found refuge, she looks more perfect than the sweaty mess she supposedly would have been. I can accept this implausibility.
More serious than my concession to having a perfectly-bodied Ms. Bullock at which to stare, is my opinion that the implausible, in Gravity, plays with the imagination of viewers. Viewers, at very specific points, are not only left to experience the implausible but, more importantly, are conscious of experiencing the implausible. As viewers follows a character slowly being poisoned by carbon dioxide – and therefore prone to hallucination – I wonder how helpful it is for viewers to be constantly distracted by questions of plausibility and questions of whether what is happening is even really happening. More than one reaction to Gravity questioned whether the narrative itself might be a dream sequence and I do not know how helpful it is to have viewers wondering if they themselves are hallucinating.
I would not say that this constitutes an objective failing in Gravity. A feature I did experience as weak, however, surrounded the character Kowalski. While George Clooney has delivered some very fine performances, his character in Gravity is clichéd to the point of distraction. Kowalski references possibly breaking the spacewalking record of a rival and implies his current mission will be his last. In terms of predictability, it does not get more obvious than this that his is a character which soon will die.
In contrast, although similarly clichéd, I felt that the performance delivered by Sandra Bullock was strong. As suspect as the insertion of astronaut Stone’s personal history could have been, I found it somewhat affecting. Further, there was great interplay between the way Cuarón images his scenes and the way those images serve symbolically. For example, when the debris dislodges Stone and sets her adrift beyond the contact of others, I found this to nicely anticipate how the viewer will learn that, emotionally, Stone has already detached herself from the contact of others.
I most appreciated the tenderness of Gravity; a tenderness particularly mediated through the compositions of Stephen Price. Stone is relentlessly challenged – as characters in the films of Cuarón and his Mexican contemporaries tend to be – but interspersed are moments of beauty which point to meaning in life. That potential exists, for Stone to be reborn, points to a movement in her life which, however short-lived that life might be, I found enriching.
Gravity has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for “intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language”.