Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock & George Clooney
When preparing for a job within dangerous conditions, you must account for all contingencies in place seeing as the more dangerous the position, the more likely it becomes for one to be ready to act. As dangerous and isolating as it gets, Gravity embarks on a tale of raw human survival in a place where solace can rarely be found in an uninhabitable environment.
Set on her first mission up in space, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) boards with a few other astronauts in order to apply a set of hardware upgrades to a craft. While in the process of completing these upgrades, the group receives word of debris coming their way, which completely wipes out their station and leaves Stone fighting for her life simply to survive and get back to Earth.
Nothing intricate or complicated about its plot, Gravity becomes purely about survival in probably one of the most difficult ones to sustain it, space. An environment depleted of oxygen, which obviously must be present in order for humans to even breathe. Any moment where anyone does not remain attached to some structure could lead to one being pulled and floating away. A genuinely terrifying experience and one this film captures so well in its exceptional technical execution.
From the very start, this feature commits to creating as realistic an experience out in space as it can from the visuals to the sound work. As anyone should know, space is a vacuum so there should be nothing for Ryan to hear, thus leaving the sound work to come solely from Ryan’s conversation with others and her breathing. An aspect we all take for granted but when oxygen comes at a premium out there in space, each breath sucks up more of the precious resource. Hard to imagine where it remains plentiful down here on Earth but in instances where she needs to conserve her breathing in order to not use up all of her oxygen, it left me terrified. The most impressive aspect leading to this film’s success comes from the way it puts the audience right in with Ryan as she attempts to survive this hellscape scenario.
For such a terrifying experience, she finds herself in this situation during her very first trip up in space. All the anxiety that comes with doing something for the very first time at any job can be mind-boggling for the fears where one could mess up gets amplified when Ryan must figure out how to do everything on her own. Complete nightmare fuel, but the film proves the sheer resilience of this woman as she does not let her inexperience stop her from surviving this situation and utilizes all of her training in order to make it back to Earth.
This would make for a good spot to give proper credit to Sandra Bullock for the absolutely tremendous work she does with Ryan. An actor who never truly wowed me in any of her roles and bafflingly won an Academy Award for her horrid performance in The Blind Side she truly stuns with her raw performance here. She represents all of us in this situation in the moments where she succumbs to moments of weakness of just ending this misery but also mustering the strength to continue even when it feels impossible to go on. Her most human role and something anyone can connect to even if they have never been up to space simply because everyone has found themselves in difficult circumstances where they wanted to give up. Whether it be in a life-threatening manner or one in the job force and in relationships. If Ryan can keep it together long enough to remember her purpose and what it means to make it back to Earth and so can we, thus making Bullock’s performance that much more resonant.
With most of the focus on Bullock, the other character outside of Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is space itself. The way it gets captured demonstrates the uncredible dangers up there and just how unsustainable it is for anyone to dream to survive out there. A particular moment right after the debris hits has Ryan just floating in space attached to nothing, which may be one of the scariest moments ever captured on film. The possibility of a slow death due to oxygen depletion as she just continually turns without any control shows what happens without the proper safeguards out there. Simply breathtaking and even knowing this to be a feature film where the main protagonist would not be killed off so quickly, it managed to strike up an incredible degree of fear with so much credit owed to director Alfonso Cuaron.
Featuring such a robustly diverse filmography from adaptations of Charles Dickens’s works, dystopian science-fiction tales, and sexual coming-of-age tales to something like Gravity shows this man can simply do it all. This feature feels completely different in its scale but still features Cuaron as the technical master as a director. Teaming up here with his frequent collaborator, Emmanuel Lubezki, the two work absolute wonders with the camera to make this an enthralling experience throughout. The raw humanity captured here amongst a desert where one mistake can end Ryan’s life keeps the stakes at an all-time high for the entirety of the feature’s length. We feel everything along with Ryan from the moments of elation of small successes to the sheer desperation of trying to cling onto some support to keep her from floating away. Simply devastatingly devastating work from the technical team here.
My biggest regret with Gravity comes from not experiencing it in IMAX 3D, as it most likely would have been that much better way to see this story play out. However, even on my television, the fear and fret to survive this hellscape of a situation comes together exceptionally well. Fully engrossed in the battle of the elements, it puts Ryan and the audience through test after test with little hope, yet it may be one of the most inspirational and relatable stories of the century.