Jake Pelenis // arts columnist
The film is harrowing in its portrayal of the bleak and mammoth emptiness of space. Director Alfonso Cuarón has created what could potentially be described as “a lady floating around in space for ninety minutes” and turned it into a film that is both artful and exhilarating. “Gravity” is a rare breed of film in that a seasoned film student and a moviegoer looking for a quick thrill could both find a lot to like. It has moments of existential ballet-like bliss sandwiched between instances of space stations being violently ripped apart, while the protagonist clings to whatever life she has left.
The film is one of the most visually stunning feats I have ever seen to date. I had very lofty expectations after Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki’s previous collaboration on the magnificent, “Children of Men.” Lubezki’s mind-bending, extensive takes return in top form; the opening shot of the film lasts a total of thirteen minutes. The camera floats lazily around a crew of three astronauts while they chatter and perform various tasks on the outside of their space shuttle. It is very difficult, if at all possible, to orient a sense of direction during this sequence and it effectively lulls the viewer into the languid pace of zero gravity movement.
Soon enough debris from a destroyed satellite rains upon the crew, silently tearing the space ship into a chaotic array of scrap metal spiraling in every direction. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is dislocated from the shuttle and is sent drifting off into the overbearing vacancy of space. Her momentum has left her spinning and the camera lingers on her panicked face as we see planet earth revolving behind her.
I never thought I would say this but I think seeing this film in 3D is imperative to the experience; it makes for a brilliant juxtaposition of the distances between astronaut and shuttle compared to incomprehensibly vast distance to the stars surrounding them. This is the first time I have seen 3D being used to serve the quality of the film instead of just being a gimmick thrown in as an afterthought.
Now “Gravity” is brilliant visually, but it stumbles a bit when it comes to narrative. There is barely a story at all in the film and that is just fine, but problems arise when Cuarón tries to shove one in. There is a troubled backstory to Ryan Stone’s past that comes up very briefly and it just did not take for me. It felt forced, and I could start to see the puppet strings behind Bullock’s performance. That is not a good thing when it comes to maintaining immersion. Certain corny lines had me cringing at their clichéd nature as well.
These minor complaints do not prevent “Gravity” from being a good film though, it is an exceptional work of art and I highly recommend it.