Far From Home in Gravity: Movie Review

Catherine Ellsberg ’16
Assistant Arts Editor 

What struck me the most in the beginning of Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s recently released, muchanticipated film, was not so much the majesty of space, or the dazzling 3D effects: it was the silence.

So striking is this complete quiet, a bewildering element in a megablockbuster film (Hollywood tends to believe that screeching violins and emotion are causally related), that it seems to stretch on forever. Within the first few minutes, we are informed by captions that “life in space is impossible” (just in case we had our doubts), and as engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) float in space, the latter chummily cracking jokes, you get a sense of just how vulnerable they are. As they bob around their shuttle, some of their colleagues jumping up and down in playful, almost infantile exuberance, there’s a distinct gap between the earthly mechanisms of protective gear and über-advanced tech devices, and the vast void of space. Stone and Kowalski may be prepared and trained to undergo their research mission, but as one thing after another goes terribly wrong, we note the bluster and pomposity of human effort to “discover” space, to explore the unknown in relation to the realities of this ultimately unknowable terrain.

The film also beautifully conveys the transient qualities of life in space. One moment Kowalski is telling a story about an old girlfriend, and the next, disaster has struck and the shuttle has been destroyed. The shift is instantaneous and incredibly disturbing. In one of Gravity ’s most exhilarating moments, Stone becomes untethered from the station, and she begins to whir in great, sweeping circles, around and around into dizzying chaos. As she spins farther into space, away from Kowalski and away from the safety of the shuttle, she screams, “What do I do? What do I do?” At this point, 3D is used to incredible, frightening effect; as bits of the shuttle fly apart, you hold onto your seat as pieces of debris come flying toward you. As Stone tumbles and bounces around, her fear is palpable; as she struggles to breathe, her oxygen tank running low, you might find yourself gulping for air as well.

As a general rule, I am not a fan of 3D; I find special effects are often used to obscure holes in a thin plot. 3D can feel weighted and sluggish, all pop and no substance. Gravity, however, does it justice, carrying out what so many other blockbuster films try to accomplish: magnificence on a grand scale and beauty that is almost mind-boggling. This is 3D done right.

This is not to say, however, that everything in the film is entirely believable. The space shuttles and accompanying equipment have all been meticulously researched, making that part of the film experience plausible and, as far as I can tell, fairly realistic, but the two main characters, Stone and Kowalski, are not too fleshed-out. We are given a few -cliché- characteristics for each: Kowalski is the garrulous, chatty one who doesn’t get easily fazed, while Stone has suffered a terrible personal loss, leading us to believe her trip to space is also, perhaps, a way of escaping all worldly, temporal grief.

And I’m still not entirely sure about the ending; any loose ends like Stone’s deep sadness and, of course, struggle to survive, are tied up within a matter of minutes. At first, I felt it was too easy, even a bit cheap, to resolve everything so swiftly. But now, I see it a bit differently: the mundane, relative pettiness of human suffering juxtaposed with the grand scale of outer space makes for a uniquely satisfying cinematic experience. Though the film’s final image strikes an uplifting chord, the scenes that will stick with me are not so much the ones of triumph as the ones where our heroes drift away from Earth. They are swathed in darkness, in hollow silence, and, sitting in our own darkness of the movie theater, it’s impossible not to become absorbed – you’ll see.

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