Gravity – 2013
Director Alfonso Cuarón
Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice)
Screenplay Jonás and Alfonso Cuarón
In the end, it’s not how long one lives, but the quality of life one lives. The events that take place in the span of the film Gravity lends credence to that axiom. If I were in the throes of continuing my existence, I would hope to avoid spending it trying to keep Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone from making my time a mess of histrionics. As it stands, her performance wore me out in the span of the nearly 90 minutes of the story.
To be fair, Bullock has a lot of weight to carry in the story. Almost every scene has her in some capacity, so the burden is on her to show some amount of growth from beginning to end, while still presenting the kind of character that could survive the training required to become an astronaut, even a specialist. What she demonstrates is someone who would be hard to work with in an office, much less in the intricate vastness of space.
The real star of the film is the peerless cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki demonstrating the vision of Cuarón. Lubezki, most notably remembered for his work on The Tree of Life shows an expression that is at once intimate and hopelessly vast. This film should stand as a standard for space filmography for years to come. There are some probability issues and some will find flaws with (very few) aspects of the film. The biggest drawback I see has to do with the perceived strength of a parachute. These choices are made in the effort to create more out of the central character, than anything. From the opening moments until just about 10 minutes left, it’s hard to fault any of the choices made.
Which brings us back to Bullock. It may be more of a personal preference, but I just did not feel much more than annoyance with how our heroine is portrayed. The character is done a disservice by making her so easily frazzled, even before the first sign of trouble. The vetting process of any space mission would likely not let one with her reaction to (potential) adversity get through. Stone even argues that she never successfully landed a simulated escape pod during training. The chances of becoming an astronaut are between slim and none, even for those who won’t crack under pressure. If that is not enough, we then discover she is the mother of a dead child. I am not an expert on space travel by any sense of the word, but I am sure she’s not the only person that can change out a motherboard.
For those who take issue with this perspective, ask yourself this question:
Who would you rather have with you when no you are in the place where no one can hear you scream, Sigourney Weaver’s Lt. Ellen Ripley or Dr. Stone? Heck, I would even take Lt. Gorman. Even he had 38 successful simulated missions. So much of the film hinges on her character, it can’t help but detract when you feel a sense of the wrong kind of dread watching her make decisions.
George Clooney’s calm, cool and often wise Lieutenant Mark Kowalski. Even with his “last” trip in space, and his penchant for telling the same, not quite funny stories, he’s still the best thing the crew has going for it. He is the perfect picture of an astronaut: someone who is aware of every procedure, and when those fail, has the innate ability to improvise. The story would have benefited with more of his character. Indeed, the best scene in the film happens with him when you least expect it.
Another pleasant aspect of the film is that sound of Ed Harris’ voice at Houston control. It borders on cliché, but it’s still damn delightful.
Through the film we do get to see the growth of Dr. Stone. Improbably, she puts things together, and as we realize that it is supposed to be us out there on the edge of the world. Only I never would go there. I am not nor should I be qualified. My job is closer to changing out the motherboards on earth. As we reach the musical crescendo of the overwhelmingly out-of-place song Shenzou (Wailing to a symphony score? Really?), the point pounds home that the good of the one outweighs the good of the many when it comes to awards season.
(***1/2 out of *****)