Immersive ‘Gravity’ dazzles, terrifies in space

With the rise of streaming video, the imperative to consume movies in a theater is rapidly depleting.


Gravity
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 91 min.
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

And for good reason: why pay for an overpriced ticket to watch a film with potentially rude moviegoers, when one can simply enjoy new releases from the comfort of their own homes?

Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s first film in seven years, is the exception to that line of thinking, the rare cinematic experience that requires and deserves to be enjoyed in an enormous theater (preferably IMAX) with roaring surround sound and crystal clear picture.

Gravity is also the rare film that actually makes use out of 3D and won’t make you want to gouge your eyes out.

A routine shuttle mission goes awry for medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) after a disaster sends a multitude of debris in their direction. In a matter of minutes the shuttle they were working on is destroyed. The unexpected onslaught of debris isolates Kowalski and Stone.

Stranded in lower orbit, Stone – on her first trip in space – is now alone, frightened and beginning to panic. Cuarón does a brilliant job of capturing these early moments of distress, placing the camera in and out of her suit where every breath of air she intakes may be her last.

The terror and anxiety of the situation sets in immediately as Gravity artfully and ingeniously paints the deafening silence of space. As Stone regains composure, she attempts to reunite with Kowalski, a veteran of space who remains poised and optimistic in the face of imminent death.

While Gravity is undeniably epic in design, the core story unfolding before our eyes is a small and intimate one. Brief conversations between Stone and Kowalski are the most satisfying elements of the movie – where they converse about their lives back on planet Earth.

Kowalski, who seems to have an anecdote for every situation, elicits thoughtful responses from Stone, a despondent woman who lost her daughter at a young age and has yet to recover.

Perhaps accidentally, Gravity shifts and shapes into a reflective and reverential ode to Jean-Paule Sartre’s No Exit, and the “Hell is other people” maxim propelling it.

Away from everything and everyone, both characters find solace in being in space. It is here in the cosmos that they’re set free from the monotony of everyday life: the perception people have of us, the perception we have of ourselves, and the strenuous hardships we endure.

Of course, this meditation on the perils of perception takes a backseat to the architecture of the film. Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón are infinitely more focused in world building than storytelling. And that’s all right.

While Gravity may be intermittently masturbatory and revelatory, it is unquestionably an immersive theater-going experience. The dazzling imagery manages transport us to another time and place, even if the story never amounts to much.

And although it may not be the film we expected after Children of Men in 2006, it’s the film we received. Only time will tell if Gravity will endure as an innovative piece of artistry, or a fantastical flash in the pan.