By: Patrick Y. Lee
It is needless to disclose, after indulging in the beguiling expanse of void in the film’s poster and meticulously crafted scenes, the staggering visual euphoria of Gravity – an idiosyncrasy rarely seen in the hodiernal chaos surrounding Hollywood’s purging of senseless remakes and sequels. The aesthetics of the quasi-philosophical film underscoring Murphy’s Law, however, is just a wisp of Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful artwork; he has crafted a directorial magnum opus that transcends cinema itself with its breathtaking scope and depth.
Set in an ulterior 2014/2015, the adept bio-medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission, led by experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). During what appears to be an ordinary routine spacewalk and notably the team’s last, Houston Mission Control alerts them that a Russian missile strike on a faulty satellite has sparked a chain reaction of orbiting debris to near the team at dangerously rapid rates. Havoc ensues and the team’s shuttle is ruined, leaving Stone and Kowalski incommunicado. Only through conscientious life-decisions and a swirl of luck will the two be able to return to Earth.
With the sheer elegance and grandiose of the opening shot – which paints a vivid image of mankind’s terrestrial existence – we are blown away at the stark contrast between the lavish planet and the transcendent emptiness that holds it. We are nearly tantalized with the faint radio transmissions that ever so steadily crescendo – nothing else distracts. The serene spectacle is punctuated with a rapid succession of nerve-wracking events that are brilliantly conveyed in a single, steady shot; it consists of a series of possibly the most complex camera movements ever witnessed on film.
Nothing amazes more than the minutiae that director Cuarón seamlessly blend in – an audile shift between the external and internal environments of Stone’s space helmet, the precise rotations of the sun’s glint in her pupils, and her helpless experience in the zero-gravity realm – Stone’s ephemeral attempt to ‘swim’ against the ‘sea’ is futile. It is this futility of “trying” in a universe revolved around Murphy’s law – which states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – that compels Stone to repeatedly question her endeavours to return to Earth. Although Cuarón carefully manages the pace to enhance the anxiety and pressures faced by Stone, the director fails in other crucial areas.
The substantial, even forceful attempts to elicit an emotional response from the audience are excruciatingly apparent. The writers, Alfonso and his son Jason, pad myriad scenes with character information that is either irrelevant or simply halfwitted. During the last emotional interaction between the two characters, Stone describes her daughter’s death involving a slip, a hit, “and that was it.” Stupidest thing! – I echo both her words and mine. That Cuarón is able to deftly develop the film’s niceties to a climatic point and posteriorly ruin it is chagrin. The nuances of humour don’t do justice to the gravity of the situation either – it sits inanimate, gawky and maladroit, counting on a slim chance for at least a jokey reaction. What’s more is that midway through we gather a sense of repetition in the physical problems facing Stone – there is nothing as hackneyed as the circuiting debris or depleting O2 levels.
What results from this dissection, then, is Gravity – the epitome of visual achievement and direction oddly amalgamated with unrevealing characters and a rather capricious plot. Nevertheless, perhaps one of the best space films released, Cuarón’s magnum opus will satiate anyone yearning for a tasty post-Thanksgiving treat!