The menacing, mercurial magnitude of space has always enthralled audiences. We sit and ponder what life forms exist beyond Earth, the misadventures of space crafts, the languages and cultures abounding on various planets. Gravity is a different sort of space film. Although it is rightly heralded as science fiction, it is also a very human drama and furthermore, a thriller.
Watching Gravity is a very stressful, claustrophobic experience and also an unusual fusion of boredom and exhilaration. Although we have come to associate space movies with thrills and most moviegoers expect dramatic twists, turns and wild swings in the opposing direction from their stories, Gravity delivers a far more simple and poignant premise. Medical engineer Ryan (Sandra Bullock hyperventilates herself through this movie with her usual likeability) is on her first mission, partnered with veteran astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney portraying his characteristic cocky charm) when their shuttle is obliterated by a cataclysmic rush of space debris.
What ensues is a desperate, frantic struggle across the confining expanse of space in order to return to Earth. The 3D effects really amplify the dense expanse of space in all its terrifying, bewildering beauty whilst also honing in on minute details such as beads of condensation. This creates a detailed, stunning and also quite frankly, frightening perspective of space as a wild, blank canvass of unexplored wonders and indefinable sporadic dangers. The illusion created is one of being in space with the characters, hence my stressed, tense, claustrophobic reaction. Feeling hemmed in by my own 3D glasses also intensified this rush.
Although the film itself follows a trajectory both monotonous, repetitive and deliriously unhinging, what is most intriguing are the themes of the film, which some have claimed feel hammy and disingenuous. Yes, it’s true that some of the dialogue has most definitely been scraped up from the barrel of clichés, but there is only so much that can be done when the films focus is on two individuals floating in a vacuum. The film is naturally limited by its forced fixation on one limitless location. There are no shots to Earth and that’s a good thing, as it would only take away from the sense of total abandonment.
Gravity explores the importance of understanding when to let go, and when to hold on, both of which are demonstrated as being both physical and tangible, and emotional and psychological. It gives a real feel of the intensity of isolation and alienation. We learn that Ryan’s character has outcast herself for a long time, but in space this is enormously amplified. The film uses contrasting images of religion and evolution, Ryan slithering out of the water like an evolving fish and learning to stand, and speaking to the sky as if she has acknowledged the presence of a creator. There is also emphasis on rebirth, as Ryan floats like a baby, curled in the foetal position into the womb of the shuttle. It is a surreal look at the delirium of fear, anxiety, solitude and profound loneliness and the overwhelming urge to survive and to return home.
This slow burner was visually delicious, truly engaging the eyes, and although I am happy I saw this film, it is not one I could or would watch again. Its effect I imagine would also be diminished on the diminutive television screen. This feels made for cinema only. It’s also important to note that this film will not be an enjoyable romp for all, as it can feel agonisingly boring and uncomfortable as it feasts on its own themes of powerlessness and the vulnerable human condition. It’s certainly convinced me that should holidays in space ever be a reality, I will not be attending.