Gravity is both utterly foreign and deeply relatable.
On the surface, it is a film about outer space, the final frontier, where few men have gone. You can’t get much more foreign than that. There is no gravity, no oxygen, no sound and presents an entirely inhospitable environment. Humans cannot live in space. If you don’t have something to hold onto, you will drift away into nothingness. At this level, it can easily be considered, in the least, a thriller if not a horror film. And this is where the technological skills and perfectionism of the filmmakers really shines. Writer, director and producer Alfonso Cuarón took the original vision for the story and was willing to wait five years for adequate technology to come around in filmmaking that would enable him to make the film well. I was lucky to have gotten tickets to a Q&A session during the BFI London Film Festival with Cuarón and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber, during which they talked about the time and effort it took to accurately portray the environment in space. It seems making a zero-gravity, soundless environment look realistic on the screen is harder than you might imagine. From the actors’ movements, to the scenes of debris destroying the space station in near-silence and even the lighting, every technical aspect of the film was considered and analyzed to appear as though it were actually happening in space. This attention to detail paid off, because Gravity is a truly dazzling and mesmerizing film.
At the same time, it does not show off. The technology used was not to make the film flashy, but to make it more realistic to what it is portraying. In an interview, Cuarón commented on this:
“We weren’t trying to compete in the Olympics of long shots. We didn’t want the shot to call attention to itself. Otherwise it becomes the goal of the scene — it becomes what I call a ‘Look, Ma, no hands!’ kind of shot. We’re just doing stuff that makes sense for our narrative. Your shots are part of
your movie’s language. And the language of this movie is to make you feel like you’re floating up in space with the characters.”
A film full of long shots and smooth editing, it is easy to feel like you are right there with the characters as they drift through space.
A lot of films now are released in 3D and I have been very unenthusiastic about them. The last film I saw in 3D before Gravity was Avatar, and that is because I knew that was a film made for the 3D medium. Too many films now add unnecessary scenes that will look cool in 3D just so they can take advantage of that selling point. Even with Gravity, the first time I saw it was in 2D and it was still a great film. But I decided to see it again, this time in IMAX 3D and can safely say that it is a film meant to be seen in this form. It is all that much more immersive and convincing in its portrayal of the astronauts’ struggles in space and the work that went into the visual effects for the film. So if you take the time to go see it in theaters (which you should), you should also fork out the extra money to see it in 3D – trust me, it’s worth it.
Beyond the fact that Gravity is a beautiful film to watch, the acting is fantastic. George Clooney is his usual charming self as Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut with a sense of humor and love of storytelling. His character adds a lightness and optimism to the film that is much needed. The stand-out performance, however, comes from Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, an engineer who is on her first mission to space. Without giving too much away, her backstory provides the emotion of the film, and here is where my second viewing really helped my opinion of the film. At first, the technological aspects outweighed the plot and even the acting, to an extent, but once you finish simply appreciating how the film looks, you’re able to see what the film is actually trying to say.
Ultimately, what makes the film so relatable, despite its setting, is the fact that it is simply about overcoming adversity. It’s about reaching the point at which you say, “I give up,” and then deciding to fight past it anyway. It is a film about letting go of the past so that you can live in the present. It provides a message as a story of survival and perseverance that we can all relate to ourselves in some way.