Gravity is not a film. Gravity is an experience. The hype and buzz surrounding this science fiction thriller, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and helmed by Alfonso Cuarón, approached the absurd in the weeks leading up to its debut. Critics lauded it as a decisive moment in cinema, advancing bold new visual effects techniques while simultaneously providing a compelling story rich with humanity, grounded with Oscar-worthy acting performances. I went to the theater with trepidation, afraid that my hopes had been raised so high that there would be no way the film could live up to these lofty expectations. Gravity, against these tremendous odds, did all this and more, establishing itself as a future classic of the science fiction genre and perhaps the entire realm of cinema.
Gravity’s greatest strength is the power of its experience. The cinematography is astonishing in its ambition and execution. Never before has the pure grandeur and mystery of space been so masterfully portrayed. Opening with a continuous near-twenty minute shot, the camera is ever shifting and moving organically, floating through space along with the astronauts central to the story, shunning the rules of physics we know so well on the ground. The camera-work on Gravity embraces the lack of proper “up” and “down”, and we the audience reap the rewards. We see the beauty of Earth viewed from the heavens, the majesty of a sunrise, the humbling scale of the universe. When disaster strikes the crew of the space shuttle, and Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are fighting to survive, this unrestricted camera is utilized to its full potential in the exact opposite sense, fully involving the audience in the terrifying disorientation and chaos of disaster in space. When coupled with the marvelous soundtrack by Steven Price, working in sync with the phenomenal sound design which embraces the soundless nature of space by crafting a soundscape one feels more than hears, it is impossible to not be completely engaged in the simultaneous beauty and terror of space.
What allows Gravity to transcend simply being a ground-breaking thrill ride in effects work, however, is the story and human drama incorporated into the midst of this beautiful disaster. One fear that I and many others had based on the trailers is that the film would lack plot, becoming just one long sequence of sustained terror and suspense. Though quite a bit of Gravity does induce these emotions, a plot is in fact present, the characters are achingly human (a great credit is due to the superb acting by Bullock and Clooney), and the experience has deep existential significance for both the main characters. Powerful imagery is utilized at several points, hinting at profound metaphorical meanings for the overall story arc. Coupling the exhilarating atmospheric and visual experience with a compelling and thoughtful story elevates this film to heights it would have never reached otherwise.
Gravity, in short, is a must-see film in theaters. If you get the chance, definitely try to see it in 3D or on IMAX. Even in my 2D showing I found myself literally ducking at one point to dodge a chunk of space debris, for so involved was I in the experience that my instincts overrode my logic. Gravity is a first class example of the potential of film to not simply entertain us, but rather to engage us, to involve us in experiences we would otherwise never know, to help us look at our world in a way we otherwise never would.