By Jessica Delfanti | October 4, 2013
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writer: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
As Halloween approaches, the theaters are soon to be flooded with horror movies that span from creepy crawlers to slashers to ghosts, but little will be as chilling as the threat of space in Alfonso Cuaron’s new film Gravity.
The film centers on Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first space trip. When a Russian satellite experiences an ambiguous error, it generates a mass of debris that rips into Stone’s location, stranding her and another astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), in space with dead comms and dwindling oxygen.
The film operates with minimal dialogue, a tiny cast, and a whole lot of ambient music and tasteful 3D, offering a minimalist experience that is almost shocking in its melding of beauty and horror. Cuaron knows what he is doing, and the kind of sense-loss that he wants to evoke; he makes the camera float and bob, spin idly, or jerk suddenly in reaction to the environment of “Space.” The result is that the viewer feels almost disturbingly present. The opening sequence, for example, is mild in subject matter but gives the viewer an introduction to the feeling of weightlessness, of lack of control, of nausea, of the light and dark, the lack of sound and the power of movement in zero gravity.
And it is this sense of zero gravity that causes the greatest reaction from the viewer. Gravity is by far the best and (seemingly) the most real exploration of space that I have ever seen. The earth is rendered beautifully, its blues and greens and weather patterns displayed in acute detail, often reflecting off the curved glass of Stone’s helmet. Every detail is attended to, the straps on backpacks floating, weightless, the tears from an eye drifting away from a face. The attention to the laws of physics and inconvenient realities of zero gravity is so apparent that one almost feels that “Space” is a third main character in the film–and boy, is it a jerk. A beautiful jerk, of course.
For how beautiful and well executed the effects and setting are, the script falls drastically short. While Clooney delivers his lines with his characteristic charisma and confidence, Bullock gets left with the worst lot. For much of the film, Stone is alone, and the film would be significantly stronger if she remained silent. In fact, if Gravity had the courage to allow its heroine to remain silent, letting us marvel at her resourcefulness, her intelligence, and her concentration, it might have been a true masterpiece. The speaking isn’t even the natural self-encouragement one might expect in such an isolated situation–not just, “This must be it!” or, “OK, what next?” Instead, Bullock is left with some bizarrely clumsy monologues about her past that stick out from an otherwise masterful film like the sore thumb of an amateur writer. In addition to this, the film hinges on a film school level deus ex machina that disturbs the rest of Gravity’s subtle direction.
Luckily for us, and for Cuaron, the dialogue is minimal enough that it doesn’t disturb the experience too much. Instead, viewers are far more likely to remember the tension, the sense of skin crawling disorientation, and the fact that they never, ever want to be an astronaut.