February 9, 2014
Gravity--a haunting and breathtaking science-fiction drama from director Alfonso Cauron (Children of Men)--immerses the audience into a photo-realistic view of space with thematic structure that is universal and enhances the technological wonderment onscreen. The result is poetic and visceral.
The story is simple. Two astronauts are stranded in space after an asteroid-like collision from another shuttle, and do everything they can to get back to earth. Sandra Bullock plays NASA mission specialist Ryan Stone, whose life seems to have been drifting after the sudden loss of her four-year-old daughter. George Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, on the verge of retirement. ("You're the real genius up here. I'm the bus driver," says Matt.)
It's easy to spot key visual elements in this film (especially in 3-D), such as reflections in helmets, images of shuttles and objects, the depth of space, and color palettes around earth and in the stars. The length of certain shots add a level of authenticity (the opening shot practically runs for about four minutes). Sound is also key during moments of peril, such as when Bullock's Ryan begins losing oxygen and gasping for breath.
But it's the film's thematic and universal structure that makes the imagery (and the story) work. Cauron has stated in interviews that using visual metaphors in space was key in telling this story. It's intriguing that a majority of the film's action features characters floating above the earth, yet echoes adversities no different than what everybody experiences, is weighed down by, or lives through everyday. Along with the aforementioned theme of drifting, the roles of fear and death come up as well, particularly through the imagery of floating teardrops during a breaking and (literally) cold moment of hopelessness, isolation and loneliness.
Yet, hope is expressed in remembering what it means to live, why we should live and what we live for, even when it seems as if said hope is out of reach. This can start with the theme of rebirth, such as during a striking moment when Ryan is hanging in a fettle position inside a ship (much like a baby in a mother's womb). But it's Clooney's Matt who represents a trusted source of accountability and encouragement for Bullock's Ryan, especially in the theme of letting go of such adversities that weigh us down, and in choosing to live. Now there's a message that defies gravity.