The most stressful two hours you can have in a movie theatre - in the best possible way.
October 07, 2013
Nothing is scarier than outer space. Think about it for just a moment: On one hand: your stock horror movie assemblage of psycho killers, poltergeists, zombies and monsters. On the other hand: the void of space, black holes, supernovas, the certainty of tissue-crushing death just beyond your vessel, aloneness with zero human life for infinity, ohmigod infinity.
So it's strange that while we've seen a number of dramas that play off this setting (not least 2001: A Space Odyssey), we haven't seen a major film directly about it. Enter Gravity, an extremely visceral, sensorial journey into our shared fear of drifting into outer space. Apparently director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón (the consistently solid genre-hopper behind Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mama Tambien) wanted to be an astronaut as a child, though there's no trace of idealised fantasy here.
Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts making repairs to the Hubble Telescope that orbits Earth. Clooney's Matt Kowalski is an extroverted veteran, casually whizzing around on an untethered space walk by way of a thruster pack. Bullock's Dr Ryan Stone is a reticent newbie just trying not to throw up from extreme motion sickness.
They haven't been at the Hubble coalface for long when their suddenly grim colleagues at Mission Control warn them of an incoming wave of debris from a Russian anti-satellite test. Sure enough, it strikes soon and strikes ferociously, leaving Bullock and Clooney floating in space with no incoming communication from Earth.
Before seeing Gravity, I would've assumed this was the end of the line. As it turns out, there are a number of measures open to a resourceful, fast-thinking survivalist in the great emptiness of the heavens — and faced with rotten bad luck, they're going to have to try a great number of them.
Gravity, however, is more about experience than plot. It is the single most stressful two hours you can have in a movie theatre — in the best possible way — as it puts you in the position of the stranded astronauts. Long shots subtly convince you that the subjects are not surrounded by a crew of cameramen, while the view from inside their helmets is frighteningly limiting and disorientating. While there is music (composed by Steven Price), Cuaron also exploits the soundlessness of space to great effect, with sound carried through vibration coming across tinny and foreign and Bullock's fluctuating breathing your faithful guide throughout. The incomparably stunning visuals alone are enough reason to see this film, a milestone in 'grown-up 3D'.
At the same time, Bullock's performance is deeply compelling. Even when Gravity's relentless series of obstacles seem to become ludicrous (and there is a point), you're so invested in her survival that it's forgiven. Gravity is an unforgettable ride that will make you appreciate the feeling of the ground beneath your feet.