It’s 2013. By this time, numerous manned missions have been made to space. A man succeeded in skydiving from outside of Earth’s atmosphere. And starting next year, Virgin Galactic will make space tourism a thing of reality. It seems like being in space is about to become so casual, and we have nothing to fear about it.
Gravity aims to change that by reminding viewers that space is freaking scary.
Gravity, from director Alfonso Cuaron, is about medical engineer Ryan Stone, who is on her first spacewalk. With the help of lead astronaut Matt Kowalski, Stone assists in fixing the Hubble Telescope while trying to navigate herself through the physics of space. If walking in space or being suspended in zero gravity never seemed thrilling to you, this movie shows just how breathtaking a routine mission is, simply by having the first scene be shot as one, long take. With no camera cuts, viewers are taken through a 17 minute journey around the satellite, revealing every textured detail while following Stone over, under, and around its surface. This long shot gives a sense of weightlessness and suspense that becomes necessary for when the action starts happening.
Stone and Kowalski receive word that debris from a Russian satellite is coming in fast, and that the crew needs to abort the mission. In a few minutes, the debris destroys both the Hubble and their spaceship, leaving them stranded and searching for their next move in the cold, unforgiving atmosphere of space. Since there is no sound in space, every instance of destruction happens with an eerie silence, accompanied by a soundtrack that grips you like tension before a jump scare in a horror movie, without the relief of a jump scare.
From the beginning of the movie, it becomes clear that nothing is more vital to survival than staying tethered to something and being able to breathe. That never stops being so important as the movie progresses. Everything that can go wrong does. You tumble with Stone as she helplessly flips in midair. You watch her eyes as every breath she takes fogs her helmet. You also never stop following her through endless peril; the camera stays on her through uncut shots just as it did in the first 17 minutes.
Following one person through her personal struggle to survive requires an actress who can light up a screen with her presence and hook an audience purely with her performance. Sandra Bullock manages to do that quite well as Ryan Stone. George Clooney plays it cool as the talkative Matt Kowalski, but make no mistake. This is Bullock’s movie. Countless scenes are spent alone with her, experiencing her fear, her adrenaline, her sadness. This is not the Sandra Bullock from Miss Congeniality and The Proposal, but it’s that almost youthful charm she exudes in those movies that keeps you rooting for her until the end.
However, as much as Bullock’s performance gave the movie its heart, its soul lies with director Alfonso Cuaron. For those who do not know, Cuaron is the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is the widely considered one of the best in the series. Working from a script he wrote with his son, Jonas, he masterfully paced a story that could have easily become a borefest or a giant mess. Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki created such simple, yet robust imagery. There is such as sense of space and depth to every shot; the only regret I have is that I didn’t see this in 3D.
With so much work going into making space seem cold and frightening, Cuaron and Lubezki show Earth as kind of a home base, right below our protagonist but yet so far away. Every time Earth appears, it is so colorful and beautifully detailed. All you want is for Stone to make it back there. Just make it home.
I won’t say if she does or not, but Gravity is worth its admission price to find out on your own.