...shining light on the media, one review at a time
What good is gravity? It enables us to stand on our own two feet, to put one foot easily in front of the other, to run ahead, or to fall behind. Because of gravity, a person can pick up a baby or drop a heavy burden. Gravity defines the world that we live in. What would humanity be without gravity?
The film, Gravity, gives audiences a chance to ponder that question and more in a thought-provoking, suspenseful drama of unexpected depth. With astounding cinematography (partially enabled by digital computer graphics), Gravity shatters the expected for its genre and boldly goes where no filmmaker has gone in recent years—into the unexplored territory of big-budget film that puts art and meaning before the bottom line.
Ryan Stone, a female medical engineer given her chance to work for NASA is just thankful that the organization agreed to let her continue her research. She’s not overly thrilled to be at a space shuttle in outer space, making repairs on the Hubble telescope as she struggles just to keep her food down every day in the zero-gravity environment.
The astronaut in charge, Matt Kowalski , floats calmly about nearby, tethered to the station while he keeps repeating that he has a “bad feeling about this mission.” No one takes him seriously, seemingly not even Matt himself, as he turns his explanation for that feeling into a series of joking stories.
No one predicts that his premonition is correct until it is too late. The team is suddenly told to evacuate because a cloud of debris is headed their way. Too little warning, too late. Ryan and Matt are unable to get to safety and are thrown away from the station, spiraling into space.
The ensuing struggle to survive and reach Earth before the debris returns in orbit will do more than test Ryan and Matt’s courage. Their journey through space will reveal their secrets, fears, and what living really means.
Though the sequences in Gravity were largely created using digital technology, the awe-inspiring cinematography that results is magnificent in scope and unbelievable in its seamless application of digital elements.
Director/writer Alfonso Cuarón shows astonishing creativity in the conception of the lengthy space sequences that are often uninterrupted by cuts even when they depict fast-paced action. The visualization of this film makes it an easy must-see for students of film, as the picture is a perfect example of using the enormous capacity of digital technology to support an artistic vision that would have been impossible to make so real before.
And real this film is. Space and astronaut experts will no doubt quibble about the technical inaccuracies of Gravity, but, at the least, its depiction of people in the outer space atmosphere and the sights they see is more stunning and palpably authentic than any other production to date. With the stage of realism set, only the story and actors need be added to make the film complete.
Enter Cuarón’s script (co-written with Jónas Cuarón). Whether or not the original goal was to tell an exciting space story, this screenplay goes well beyond that beginning, exceeding the expectations of the sci-fi and thriller genres. Gravity has suspenseful sequences reminiscent of the tension-filled Appollo 13, but the story also slows downs in between the excitement in order to build layers of thematic depth and symbolic complexities that other films of its genre lack.
Indeed, the big screen is rarely graced with a movie of big-name stars and huge budget filmmaking that dares to make viewers think. In Gravity, the artistic images, of which there are many, are not just there to look pretty—they are true art because they carry symbolic meaning that transcends the superficial image and thereby adds greater beauty.
The actors support this blend of art and realism through their skillful performances. Sandra Bullock gives arguably the best performance of her career as Ryan, showing a maturity and confident command of the camera that enables her to make this portrayal her most authentic yet.
George Clooney fans, however, might be disappointed that his role as Matt takes a backseat to Bullock’s. Clooney’s character filling a supporting role is no reflection on his performance, which, though mostly a voice-acting gig, is well-executed. Rather, the story’s focus is clearer than this film’s billing—the latter having ignored the fact that this tale is almost solely about Bullock’s Ryan and her journey.
Even so, the disappointment should not be lasting, since Ryan’s personal development and Bullock’s performance form the core that gives this film unusual impact.
Sadly, Gravity does offer disappointment in a different area of content. This film lacks some of the concerns often found in PG-13 movies, such as extensive violence and sexual situations, so perhaps the filmmakers felt they had to still earn that rating (and the lucrative target-audience that goes with it) through offensive language.
The Lord’s name is misused three times (Jesus once and God twice), while all the common obscenities get spewed out at least once each. The s-word is used eight or more times, while “h---,” “b--ch,” “a--,” “d--n,” and the f-word make fewer appearances. There could have been more, but the actors sometimes start to say an obscenity and stop without actually voicing the entire word.
Because so much of the film depicts people flying through space in astronaut suits, the other typical content concerns are minimal. Ryan pulls off her suit inside a space shuttle at one point, revealing a modest tank top and not-so-modest boxer briefs, which are tight and super short. Taking a higher road than other films, Ryan’s deportment is not portrayed as sexual in any way, and she is clothed more than women in other films’ “undressing” scenes. Still, putting Ryan in the full-body ventilation garment that a real-life astronaut would actually wear under the pressure suit would have been a far better choice.
While there are no fight scenes in this film or violence, per se, the aftermath of the space shuttle destruction includes several dead bodies. The goriest of these is shown more than once as a devastated character tries to absorb the catastrophe of what happened. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] This body has a section of the face missing and a hole going completely through the head. While undeniably graphic in nature, this body is at least not shown carelessly or humorlessly, but rather with grave respect and active direction of the viewers’ attention to the tragedy of the life that has been lost.
Other concerns include Matt telling a story that suggests a woman was holding hands with another woman or transvestite (the story gets interrupted before becoming explicit or offensive).
More than in many mainstream productions, these elements of negative content are somewhat offset by the positive themes. Among the uplifting messages are sacrifice, rebirth, courage, and the sanctity of human life. In addition to the moving portrayal of selfless sacrifice, the film’s other greatest themes are a resounding condemnation of suicide and a poignant offer of something much better. Because Gravity is not a Christian film, however, the best it can offer is the idea of deciding to embrace life and enjoy living to the fullest.
While much better than the idea of suicide or emotionally isolating oneself from life, this conclusion still falls far short. Ryan is left in her darkest moment without even the ability to “say a prayer” for herself. She says, “I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how.” To their credit, the Gravity filmmakers do not deny, as so many other productions do, the reality that Ryan would likely think about God (at least in the vague sense of pondering prayer) when she’s faced with imminent death.
Tragically, she does not try to ask for the divine help that she truly needs and instead sees only the options of giving up on life or doing her best to survive. According to this film, Ryan needs gravity and the experience she goes through to make her world stop spinning, both physically and emotionally.
This message is only one small step in the right direction. Let’s hope that next time, the filmmakers will show the complete truth that will be a giant leap for mankind.
Check out these similar titles:
The Climb (World Wide Pictures, 2006)
Journeys to the Edge of Creation (Documentary, Moody, 1996)
The Privileged Planet (Documentary, Illustra Media, 2004)
For more ideas, visit our What to Watch page!