By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
Set in the vast environment of outer space, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is an intense survival tale of one astronaut who desperately tries to go back to Earth.
The opening scene is the longest shot of the movie, and its most dense. It promptly defines the opposing characters of Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Kowalski (George Clooney), the nervous rookie and easy going veteran respectively, during a thrilling sequence in which the debris from a nearby Russian satellite attacks the main shuttle.
After the shuttle is damaged, Stone drifts away in empty space and her oxygen concentration levels begin to deplete. While Stone powerlessly spins around, the camera slowly approaches her headpiece, and goes inside the visor to expose her frightened face. The music composed by Steven Price has a powerful crescendo which parallels well with Stone’s growing anxiety.
Stone is luckily rescued by Kowalski, who uses a thruster pack to fly to her. When they arrive, the crew is dead and Kowalski and Stone have lost contact with Mission Control, a communications center on Earth. Desperate yet optimistic, Kowalski leads Stone to the I.S.S. (International Space Station) but his momentum proves to be too much for her as she becomes tangled with the cable wires of the station. The tether that holds her and Kowalski together breaks and launches him into open space. With the surrounding cables, Stone latches on to Kowalski, whose weight is too heavy. Kowalski tells Stone what to do and where to go for a way back to Earth. He releases himself, leaving Stone all alone. From there on, Gravity is less about the spectacle, and more about the character of Stone, who has had many experiences with loss.
Kowalski is gone. Stone is haunted by a former loved ones death. She is utterly alone, adrift. Bullock portrays the characters surmounting anger, frustration and guilt extraordinarily. Her fury as she fights through space to return to Earth is heart wrenching.
The film style adds another layer of isolation. There is a shot of Stone rolling like a single domino, and instead of filming a close up shot of her fearful face and cutting back to the environment (like most films would), Cuarón’s camera plays an outsider to the action, observing Stone flip back and forth. The camera is, in this case, another character that is distant from her struggle.
Gravity is an aesthetic success and an achievement for 3-D films. There hasn’t been this good of a 3-D film experience since Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and even that film cannot measure up to the excellence of Gravity. In the scenes that feature the floating astronauts or the incoming debris, the objects jump out so vividly that the viewer reaches to try and touch them. The 3-D enhances the film and thrills the audience. Usually, it is wise to view a film without 2-D, for the extra dimension is nothing but a gimmick, but 3-D truly enhances Gravity.
The film contains a handful of intertextualities. Like Dave Bowman’s journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity is about a human’s survival against the backdrop of space. There is a scene in which Stone falls asleep while rotating in a fetal position. She resembles the star-child, a gigantic fetus shown at the end of 2001. Gravity is emotionally akin to the 1972 Russian science fiction film Solaris, where the protagonist goes in outer space and struggles to let go of the memory of his dead wife. He is like Stone, who constantly thinks about her lost loved one. Between these scenes, there is a similar metaphor - just because you are far from earth doesn’t mean you can’t be marred by your own humanity.
Gravity stays strict to its style, never lingering into clichéd blockbuster territory. There are no big explosions, rapid editing, or formulaic characters. Instead of an action thriller (which is what the film was advertised as) Gravity is a slow, hypnotic and moving film. Above all, it is is directed by an auteur in Alfonso Cuarón, who works in point of view and single angle shots for a mesmerizing and artistic take on what is essentially a survival movie. He never speeds up for the mainstream crowd, always aiming for innovation and creativity. It is an honorable thing, and like Gravity, daring.