The only film I can claim to have seen four times in the cinema. Without a doubt, the greatest cinema experience of my life, restoring my faith in Hollywood and movies in general. A technical, directorial, cinematographic masterpiece, this is what 3D movies were made for. No, this is what movies were made for. It would be almost impossible to explain in a few paragraphs just how good this film is, and it probably is impossible to explain how I feel about it. But at least I can attempt the former. There is so much I could say but don’t want to give a running commentary, so I will try to limit myself to a few key points. Here goes:
The beauty of earth, the fragility of human life, the wonder of our technology, the determination of the human soul. Loneliness, emptiness, despair, depression, the incomprehensible vastness of the universe. Even the title of this film is a metaphor.
This is the first movie in over a decade I could allow myself to enjoy movie schmaltz and come away feeling uplifted. And the stunning score, which is just as much a part of the story as anything else, is undoubtedly a factor in this.
A friend of mine described his experience watching this as “spiritual”. Another had tears in his eyes at the end. I can completely relate to both those experiences. This is a completely immersive movie and if you are one of those people who allowed themselves to be immersed you won’t need me to explain this feeling.
Contrary to what some few have said, in my opinion the story of this film is not thin. The story is linear but it isn’t simple. So much of this story isn’t communicated by dialogue, but that’s the difference between a movie and a book; a lot of this story is told in true cinematic style: by the camera; how the shot is framed, the length of shot, the use of lighting and colour. And of course the unspoken or understated performances of the actors and actresses, the sound effects, the music, the objects in the foreground/background. I’m not talking about personal interpretation here, I’m talking about what you can experience with your senses.
We jump into another person’s life for 85 minutes (not real-time) and then jump out again. And there is so much that Cuarón wanted to say that to put it all together in such a short space of time, so well-paced, yet so enthralling and exciting and without smacking you over the head with it, is why the story is given the credit it is. Your brain is noticing all these things even if you aren’t consciously. It is why the rebirth in the airlock and the evolution on the shores of earth were on paper before the camera ever stated rolling. It’s why the story wasn’t even going to be set in space originally. It’s because Cuarón wanted to tell a particular story in a particular way, and the cinematic spectacle that it became was necessary to accomplish this. Everything visually and audibly stunning about Gravity serves the story, not the other way around.
My three favourite shots in this film could be said to encapsulate the story itself, or the three primary emotions I experienced, or maybe even three acts of this drama:
- The pan from Kowalski up to the earth in all its wondrous glory as we hear the first inklings of Ryan Stone’s theme. I remember seeing this for the first time in the cinema and being filled with awe at how huge the earth is, how beautiful it is, and just terrifying it would be to be an astronaut and actually see the earth above, or beneath you, with nothing but endless blackness all around. I can’t think of anything more simultaneously stunning and scary.
- External shot, slow pan from the Soyuz from the setting sun to the aurora borealis. Cold, lonely, silent, hopeless. Game over. There is no chance of rescue, no point in believing anymore. No point in going on.
- The Shenzou entering earth’s atmosphere as Tiangong’s debris burns up with it. Pure exhilaration. A firework display of colour and fire as our planet’s atmosphere, the thing which gives us life and shelters us from so many wild objects that fly through space, mercilessly incinerates everything – except one tiny thing: that small escape pod which humans, in their ingenuity, built to keep their kind alive. The solitary voice which has thus far sung Ryan Stone’s sad melody to us, now erupts in a full throng of human voices, as if from earth below, calling Ryan home. This isn’t fear anymore – this is sheer joy – this is laughing in the face of death, of adversity. This, along with the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelannor fields, are my two favourite movie shots of all time.
So, what is this film about? Doing what each of us has to do every day of our lives: stand up on two feet in the full gravity of the only place in the totality of existence we are conditioned to survive, and keep going every day; live.
Gravity is, without doubt, the most beautiful film I have ever seen.
Final score for Gravity is: 10/10.