“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our own souls.” – Ingmar Bergman
Alfonso Cuarón has advanced the technical possibilities of modern cinema, while simultaneously transforming the art of filmmaking with a deep meditation on both the internal and external in Gravity.
It has been seven long years since the Mexican director’s last film, Children of Men, and patience has proven to be of critical importance to Cuarón. The result of his latest obsessive work is an experience that will expand the minds of a new generation, and remind others of just how great the movies can be.
If there is one modern movie to suggest to the casual moviegoer, it is Gravity.
The opening 13-minute shot of Gravity by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) is a monumental moment in film that allows one to feel as if they are in outer space. How Cuarón and Lubezski achieved this feat is a mystery. With the conceptually mind-blowing opening shot, the viewer is introduced to the cast, one by one, as they float in the quiet, but equally frightening, realm of space. Planet earth sits in the background as a reminder of where we come from, but also as a reminder of how little we know. The breathtaking feeling of the opening scene is why one goes to the movies.
Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, is on his last mission, and encompasses everything you might expect the character to be. Kowalski is a storyteller and a charmer, but also deadly serious when he needs to be.
Opposite of Clooney is Sandra Bullock as the space-rookie Ryan Stone. The mission of the duo is to repair the Hubble Telescope. Stone is the complete opposite of her counterpart Kowalski. She is soft-spoken, nervous and dealing with her own personal struggles from Mother Earth.
Bullock’s Ryan Stone is immediately believable in Gravity, which is essential for the narrative to work. On the other hand, one may feel distracted by the movie star magnetism of Clooney. The film is essentially fueled by the performance of Bullock, but GC is there to be the guiding light, not only for her, but also for the viewer. The casting of an unknown, or even another A-lister, would distract from the story of Ryan Stone. The brilliance of Gravity is that Clooney is perfect for the subdued, calming force that is floating alongside the lead.
The physical performance of Sandra Bullock in Gravity is outstanding, and perhaps the best of her career. When disaster strikes, the breathing of Ryan Stone will surely haunt the dreams of some, and the early line “What do I do?” will linger in the mind of the viewer throughout the entire experience. The cinematography of Lubezski takes you on a ride with Bullock as she somersaults through space, but we are also taken into her helmet and see the great beyond through her point of view. Never is Bullock overly dramatic with her character (“Oh my God! Russian debris! Nooooo!”), and the stylized movements not only reveal the complexities of the character, but also endear the viewer to her (Bullock looks great, by the way). There is a shot inside a space capsule that is instantly iconic, and will have a concrete place in cinema history.
The flawless sound design of Gravity is undoubtedly one of the great wonders of the film. The viewer experiences each and every terrifying moment just as the leads do, and the understated score is never overbearing, but rather picks up at the right moments to emphasize all the horror (and peace) of our existence.
There are flaws in Gravity, which can be found in the dialogue – especially in the latter half of the film. Despite an outstanding performance by Bullock, the dialogue of late scenes is exceptionally weak, and the actress doesn’t pull back enough to truly connect with the lines.
The technical achievements of director Alfonso Cuarón are conceptually unbelievable, and Gravity must be seen on the big screen in 3D. The film require several viewings to truly understand the exploration of the mind, and one will certainly unravel new information in each character as time passes.
Gravity is one of the great achievements in modern art.
Follow Quinn on Twitter