Gravity (2013)


Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, U.S., 2013

When we think of space exploration, several iconic images come to mind.  The Earthrise and Blue Marble photographs.  The Apollo 11 moonwalk.  The Soyuz-Apollo meeting.  The Space Shuttle docking at the International Space Station. These images make us think of the adventurous, grandiose, and cooperative aspects of space travel.  What these images fail to convey is that interplanetary space is a hellscape of almost unimaginable danger.  Enter Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity.”

Gravity is, of course, a thriller, so in order to fully enjoy it one must be kept mostly in the dark about its plot.  What I’ll share can be gleaned from the trailer and other promotional materials.  George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play astronauts Kowalski and Stone.  There is an accident that results in their spacecraft being ripped apart by a massive debris field.  They are drifting in space and must find a way to survive.

There are only a handful of speaking parts in the film, with Bullock and Clooney receiving 99% of the lines.  Cuarón doesn’t need any more actors.  There are no scenes showing a launch or reaction shots on Earth as there were in Apollo 13.  The astronauts are alone, and by making them alone their perspective becomes the audience’s perspective. It is the only perspective available.  We don’t get a break because the astronauts don’t get a break.

This may sound completely exhausting, and it is emotionally draining, but Cuarón’s genius is that the non-stop ride is punctuated by scenes of extraordinary beauty, thought provoking symbolism, and even humor.  The film is intense, but singularly irresistible.

Space travel is one of the most dangerous human endeavors, but is also one of the most inspirational.  Gravity allows us to experience both extremes without leaving our remarkable, and comfortable, homeworld.

You might like Gravity if: You have ever enjoyed a thriller, because it is one of the best ever created.

You might not like Gravity if: You just want to see a goofy comedy.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe