Gravity (2013)

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A timely release for Alfonso’s Cuaron’s technical tour de force Gravity as it emerges victorious from last night’s Oscars with a total of eight awards.  Most notable was the Best Director win for Cuaron who allegedly spent three years developing the project and his presence has certainly been a key feature of the awards campaign.

The film has achieved a great deal of attention for its innovative use of 3D.  Many critics have been quick to refer to the IMAX Space documentaries as key reference material for the film.  However, there is no denying this is a technical marvel and the awe and spectacle of space, and the terror of the accident that propels us into the narrative, are impressively realised on screen.  The vastness of space may not translate as well to a smaller screen but you can still appreciate the most successful aspect of this film – its simplicity.

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The narrative focuses on stranded astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone who, after an accident, is desperately trying to make her way safely back to Earth.  There is nothing particularly original about the narrative and the visual metaphors, particularly those involving motherhood, feel a little reminiscent.  Viewers will see a number of similarities between Alien and 2001:  A Space Odyssey with astronauts floating in space like foetuses attached to umbilical cords.  However, Gravity is a great piece of entertainment and it skillfully accomplishes this whilst posing philosophical questions about the nature of our existence.  Whilst the themes are never really explored in any depth, for a piece of mass entertainment to remind its audience that our existence is incredibly unlikely and ask them why we carry on in the first place, in this cycle of procreation and evolution, it is impressive.  It never answers any questions but there are some suggested answers floating around the set.  Various religious icons hang from consoles and whilst Cuaron never directly comments on these, the concept of religious transcendence is added to the mixture of philosophical musings.  It is the idea of survival that is most prominent and the film can be seen as a celebration of life and the accomplishments of the human race.

At the centre of this narrative is a wonderful performance by Sandra Bullock.  In his acceptance speech at the Oscars last night, Cuaron was quick to praise the importance of Sandra’s presence in the film.  Collecting his Oscar for Best Director, he said to Bullock,  “You are Gravity…you are the soul and heart of the film”.  It is the audience’s investment in Dr. Ryan Stone’s survival that is the heart and soul and she becomes representative of something much more significant than an individual.  It is here that Gravity, the title of the film, becomes arguably the most interesting aspect of the film.  Whilst it is clearly contradictory to the space setting, it also reminds us what this film is posing its audience.   What is it that keeps us grounded?  What has made us strive to evolve as humans?  What makes us want to carry on?

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The film is genuinely thrilling and it contains a lot of humour, mostly thanks to a great supporting cast.  Clooney provides amiable support as the suave, All-American hero, aptly named Matt Kowalski.  There is also a nod to Apollo 13 with Ed Harris, as the voice of mission control.  However, it is the ethereal majesty of space that is the true star and it was certainly fitting to see the technical crew of Gravity awarded at the Oscars for realising these images and inviting us to gaze in wonderment at their beautiful accomplishment.

Whilst the film does tread some familiar ground, this is clearly a defining moment for 3D cinema and for the film’s director Alfonso Cuaron, who is the first Mexican to be awarded the Best Director statuette.

DIRECTOR: ALFONSO CUARÓN
WRITERS: ALFONSO AND JONÁS CUARÓN
STARS: SANDRA BULLOCK, GEORGE CLOONEY, ED HARRIS
RUNTIME: 90 MINS
COUNTRY: USA, UK

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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