Since when was the last time mainstream filmmaking became legitimately convincing, awe-inspiring and goddamn beautiful as this? All your Avatars, Dark Knights and Avengers can go suck Hollywood’s rectum, as Alfonso Cuarón practically obliterates your notion of a contemporary Hollywood movie. That something drafted, bankrolled and crafted (I say crafted, not churned) from a major commercial studio not only manages to extract a sizeable part of your pocket, but also made sure those dimes are damn well spent and manages to offer you an all-in-one package of spectacle, thrill, intelligence, poetry, humanity and performances that offer sheer fucking depth and gravitas, for the lack of a better word.
For all of Gravity‘s preposterously consumerist 3D marketing stunt, Cuarón sneaks in a survivalist arthouse film into a glossy, crowd-pleasing blockbuster designed to make your jaw drop with its technical precision, make your butt clench at its most horrifying moments and your heart soar at its grandly emotional and life-affirming coda. It’s as if Cuarón decides to become a match-maker and beds Commerce and Art together to conceive a beautiful lovechild as this. Somewhere else James Cameron weeps into his meaningless heap of dollar bills, and if Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky were around to see this beauty, they would have both nodded sagely. Its humans-marooned-in-space narrative may be deceptively linear, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s NASA astronauts’ satellite-fixing gig turning swiftly into a zero-gravity logistical nightmare any regular individual wouldn’t even dream getting involved in, but it takes this familiar premise along with space opera elements deeply embedded in popular culture and deliver it all with heart-pounding conviction.
Many of its technical marvels include audacious Cuarón and team to insist on laboriously yet magnificently-mounted long takes, eviscerating needless editing to its barest basics. Reminiscent of his touch on Children of Men, the first fifteen minutes-or-so will floor you, refusing to take the conventional route, sending its camera slowly pirouetting as if in a graceful ballet. And as soon as disaster strikes, the film grammar evolves, too – the frame spiralling around Bullock’s untethered survivor, as disorientating as it is nauseating, and penetrating close-up shots that heighten an oxygen-smothering claustrophobia (in space, ironically). Breathing will be irregular and painstaking at this juncture of the film. And yet taking your breath away visually is not only the film’s prime element – it also anchors an intelligent thesis on mankind’s (or in this case, womankind’s) survival instinct.
Tragedy looms large in every pixel of Gravity, and the curvature of the Earth is a tremendous reminder of a kind of grief and pain that Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone is floating away from. Only that this existential predicament puts Stone into a challenging reformation of her notions of life – her emotionally profound monologue about death and existence a particular highlight – re-evaluating what human communication and survival really means. It’s a stunning character arc that Bullock achieves with extraordinary perseverance, restraint and economy of expression. Gravity is a one-woman show and Bullock deserves every plaudit on the planet. Her performance makes Gravity grounded, commanding a screen presence that’s altogether strong, vulnerable and deeply thoughtful, hammering home the things we all wretched humans take advantage of every waking day of our lives – the wondrous sheer pull of life right beneath our feet. If that’s not life-affirming enough to you, then you might as well be a fucking zombie in a zombified world we live in.
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón | CAST: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice) | SCREENPLAY: Jonas Cuarón | DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures| RUNNING-TIME: 91 mins | GENRE: Drama/Thriller | COUNTRY: USA/UK