Gravity is about two astronauts, stranded in space after debris from a self-destructing satellite blasts through their shuttle like an unstoppable wave, shattering it to smithereens. For ninety minutes, they float around and crash into orbiting space stations, desperately trying to find a way back to the safety of Earth before their oxygen supply runs out. It sounds like a movie about nothing, and in many ways it is, but I must tell you now, it is one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time.
It isn’t just a good space movie; it’s a good full body experience. It is minimal in ways that even minimal has not discovered yet, but it is so ripe with emotion, with feeling, with riveting thrills, with intelligence and accuracy, with glorious music, and with blissfully perfect performances that it becomes a complex analysis of the human psyche and of human perseverance after a catastrophe strikes. When you’re left alone in a world that is endless, vast, truly empty, and without gravity, how do you pull yourself together and tell yourself “I will survive this”? Where does your will come from?
Gravity might have the same effect on people that Jaws did back in the late ’70s, but with space instead of water. For years, people were afraid to swim in their own pools because of the terror that Jaws instilled in them. It warned us that sharks are not in the deep; they’re at the surface, and they’re ready to take a bite out of our legs. The water is their home, not ours, so we are always at their mercy. Space is not that different. It is more uncharted than the waters of Earth, but what we do know of it isn’t friendly. It isn’t populated by sharks, but it’s a hostile environment and it will not hesitate to take your life. Gravity plays on this fear and makes it a reality. When something goes wrong in space, we have little time to react, and because there is no gravity, there is no control. It’s a movie that would make even the most seasoned astronaut think twice about getting into that cockpit.
In Gravity, that most seasoned astronaut is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a smug wise ass who plays country music while carrying out operations, and regales Houston with tales that nobody — not even himself — really cares about. But we know that he’s seasoned; it’s in the way he scoots around, in the way he gives orders, and in the way he handles dangerous situations that spring up in a matter of seconds. His experience is put to the test when debris from the nearby exploding Russian satellite hurtles towards them with the speed of a bullet. The debris is so fast that it slices through face and metal just like that. Remember Nero’s large black ship disintegrating in Star Trek? The same thing happens here, but to real space stations, and to real people. It’s a sight no one on Earth wants to see, let alone two tiny astronauts floating around in an empty sea of blackness with nowhere to go, and hardly anything to hold on to.
He has to save his co-worker, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who is on her first (or one of her first) missions as an astronaut — she fails all her escape pod simulators, crashing them repeatedly. She panics while he remains calm. She uses up her oxygen likes it’s free; he controls his breathing and saves his. When her oxygen level thins out to one percent, Matt is still collected — “There’s oxygen in your suit. Breathe that”. He keeps her focused, and hopeful. The story, of course, is hers to tell. She’s the one we invest in. We know about her profession, about her dead daughter and her home town in Illinois. We know about her fears. What we don’t know, is how determined she can be, and Gravity is great at fixing that. She is faced with problem after problem, with exploding space stations and malfunctioning thrusters, but she never gives up. She continues, finding different ways of pushing forward to the next checkpoint. She is us, in literal and metaphorical terms, and when she curls up into a fetal position in one scene, with all sorts of cables and wires floating around her like giant umbilical cords, there is almost a solemn reminder that in all of us lies the strength of our birth. Alfonso Cuaron himself has admitted that his movie is one big metaphor for the journey of the everyday man. The debris of space is like the debris of our lives, and if we want to survive it, we have to keep going, no matter what happens. Why space? We may feel weightless with all the debris around us. When we clear the debris and land safely on Earth, we plant our feet in rich soil; in safe soil. This may all seem like self-righteous nonsense, and it could very well be, but who are we to tell?
Gravity is a wholesome movie, metaphor or not. It is a complete experience from start to finish; an experience I haven’t had at all this year. The last time my adrenaline pumped at the same time my emotions ran high was when I watched Life Of Pi, a movie about survival through faith. Faith doesn’t exist in Gravity. Sandra Bullock’s character has not prayed even once in her life. Her will is as powerful as Pi’s, their mountains are equally high to climb, but Bullock has no gravity. She has no safe footing. That’s the difference. She floats around aimlessly. 2013 has been a year where many movies have been floating by aimlessly. It’s been a disappointing year for good movies. But in steps Gravity, an instant classic that ticks all the right boxes, and is captivating through and through. I am giving it five stars now; in no time, it will be one of my Essential Movies. I am sure of it.
Best Moment | Most of the movie. It’s all very very good.
Worst Moment | Nope.