There was a particular moment during Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity that I found myself gripping the arm rests of my seat and feeling tight-chested as I watched Sandra Bullock’s character tumble through the vastness of space with slowly depleting oxygen. And it wasn’t in a cliched kept-me-on-the-edge-of-my-seat way that so many are quick to afford to action films and thrillers. Rather, it was the masterful way in which the emotions and circumstances are presented in Gravity that I often found myself sympathetically feeling whatever sensation the characters onscreen felt during the entire film. Such is the power of Gravity; through its masterful use of visuals, sound design, and editing, the film not only gives you a fantastic and thrilling depiction of an astronaut’s perspective in space, but actually seems to transport you there for the duration of its 90 minute running time.
Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a mission specialist and biomedical engineer who’s working with astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) to install some of her technology on the space station. As they prepare to wrap up the mission, everything suddenly goes awry as debris from a destroyed satellite tears through space, severely damaging the shuttle, killing one of the other crew members, and leaving a disconnected Dr. Stone hurtling through space. In a stroke of luck, Stone is rescued by Kowalski, and the two work together to try and reach one of the abandoned stations positioned above earth to get back to the surface in an escape pod.
Gravity’s story is a relatively intimate one, but the amount of discussion it yields and all of the subtle themes it presents are fantastic. We’re given a strong and sobering sense of isolation when Dr. Stone finds herself completely alone while trying to survive, see her experience something of a rebirth as she goes from accepting death to finding a deeply-instilled will to live, feel the intimidating and ominous nature of space, explore ideas of religion, and ultimately come to a conclusion about the true essence of gravity itself.
Admittedly, there are times when the sequence of events tests the boundaries of suspension of disbelief during Dr. Stone’s no good, very bad day, but Bullock’s stirring performance allowed me to overlook any logical or nitpicking issues I might have had with the film’s story. Gravity is able to tell a tale on par with great thrillers, all while weaving in fantastic cerebral elements and nuances that ultimately left me flabbergasted and debating how to even start writing this review.
The narrative itself is nicely complemented by the masterful technical prowess used throughout the film. Breathtaking cinematography and brilliant camera work set a believable and striking scene, all while keeping you feeling just as disoriented as Stone while she tumbles and drifts above Earth and in the space stations. Sound design was also an interesting element used to great effect, as we’re largely hearing most of the sound through the astronaut’s headsets and at times from within Bullock’s own helmet. Like the camera, the sound design was used well to manipulate my senses and to help build a sense of understanding for the events in the film and everything happening onscreen. Stone’s labored breathing during times of low oxygen was jarring, Kowalski’s country music helped lend a sense of comfort to the largely unfamiliar and hostile environment the two found themselves in, and the radio static that meets all transmissions after a communications blackout really serves to build the sense of isolation and the anxiety bred from being truly and completely alone.
The construction of the entire film was impressive not only for its technical mastery, but also because of its ability to be both physically and emotionally manipulative. It’s not easy for film to completely absorb the audience and make them feel virtually everything the characters onscreen feel, but Gravity managed to do this with bravado up until its triumphant end.
Ultimately, Gravity was a terrifying, striking, and compelling experience that not only left me with an unparalleled sense of disorientation and anxiety, but also had me questioning the purpose of life and man’s intended place in the universe. For any film to explore such a broad array of themes is ambitious enough, but this one managed to do so in such a way that I found it to be one of the more resonant films I’ve seen in a very long time. If you’re even a middling fan of film, Gravity is one that shouldn’t be missed.