I’m a little slow at getting around to new movies. I just don’t see the point in wasting $10 to see an overwrought, cliche piece of shit at the first-run theater. So, Mrs. Brik and I almost always wait to see stuff in the second-run theater. We spend a hell of a lot less money, and if the movie turns out to be shitty, it doesn’t feel like much of a loss. Gravity, like so many others, was a movie we waited to see in the second-run theater. That was a mistake. It was well worth the full admission price. I wish I had seen it sooner.
Gravity is less of a film and more of an event. It’s a massive spectacle that keeps you glued to the screen. You get completely lost in it. The typical things you expect in a film, like music, sound effects, character development, are thrown out the window. Gravity is like no other film before it. It is so different than other movies, you can’t judge it in the typical fashion. You don’t watch Gravity, you experience it.
The setup is pretty simple: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play a pair of astronauts, Bullock a rookie and Clooney a veteran. They have been sent on a routine mission to space to repair the Hubble Telescope. They are on a spacewalk, a good distance from their shuttlecraft. NASA sends them a warning that a satellite somewhere has exploded, and the wreckage is orbiting Earth at a velocity of 20 bajillion miles per hour. They have to abort the mission and get back to the shuttle. They aren’t fast enough. The debris hits them. The equipment they have been working on is decimated, and Bullock is sent hurtling into the vastness of space.
The initial disaster was the most gripping cinematic sequence I have ever seen. Space debris destroys the equipment, but there is no sound because sound does not travel in space. The complete silence of the destruction was utterly disheartening. What follows next is Bullock turning end over end, untethered in space. Earth zips by time and time again. All we hear is her labored breathing. She knows she is going to die, and we know it, too. Holy shit, I thought she was the main character, but it looked like she was going to die in the first 15 minutes.
What follows is a harrowing series of events, rescues followed by further disasters. Clooney manages to save Bullock, but they can’t overcome the disastrous outcome precipitated by the initial event. Each time the characters gain some modicum of success, it is quickly ripped away by another disaster. The movie pounds into the audience’s head just how fucking dangerous it is in outer space. One small thing goes wrong, and then everything goes wrong.
Bullock has to think fast to squirm out of an ever-worsening situation. Just when you think she can finally rest for a minute, something unexpected happens. It never gets repetitive, it just makes you think, “Holy shit!” every time something bad crops up. By the time Bullock manages to get back to Earth, the film still isn’t over, she still has an unexpected obstacle threatening to kill her. You, as an audience member, don’t get to relax until the credits roll.
Gravity only runs 90 minutes, but it is a taut 90 minutes. From the moment the film opens, to the moment it ends, it is truly a non-stop rollercoaster of thrills. As I said before, this is not a typical film, it’s an event. It is a disaster movie that, as you watch, you can’t blink, you can’t breathe. It’s really powerful. One of the best parts of this movie is how seriously and realistically it portrays outer space. The physics are realistic (from what I’ve read, obviously I’ve never been to space), the lack of sound is realistic, and all the unforseen dangers of life in space are treated realistically. The focus on realism is yet another reason why this film is so stunning. Space is incredibly dangerous, and the systems humans have constructed to keep us alive in space are incredibly fragile.
The directing is top-notch. Alfonso Cauron brings us a film that is all meat and no fat. There is nothing extraneous, only a focused film with a singular purpose. The most incredible part was the transitions, seamlessly moving from the vastness of space to inside Bullock’s helmet without a single cut. By watching the film, you can see that every angle, every shot was chosen with precision. Sure, the majority of it was done in CGI, but it looks completely real. If Cuaron’s mastery of film wasn’t apparent before Gravity, then it certainly is obvious now.