GRAVITY Review

4 stars


What more is there to say about “Gravity,” director Alfonso Cuaron’s diamond of a film? It is a masterpiece, boldly announcing the future of cinema and literally like nothing else we’ve seen before in the history of the medium. It rewrites the rules right before our eyes, managing to show us something that makes the power of filmgoing awe-inspiring all over again. It thrills us, challenges us and is hands-down one of the most visceral and stressful 90 minutes you’ll ever experience.

In an age where we consume media everywhere but inside a movie theater, Cuaron’s harrowing space journey demands audiences back. One of the film’s greatest features is simply existing as a film that must be viewed in a large-screen format in a dark room with a full audience. The power in the filmmaking, especially the stunning cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (of Cuaron’s “Children of Men” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”), is that it literally transports audiences into space with the characters. For once, 3D feels necessary for a film. Even better than the milestone-setting “Avatar” and then “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Life of Pi” to follow, it’s undeniably suitable to the zero-gravity setting where traditional horizontal and vertical planes are rendered irrelevant creating a free-standing inky black landscape.

Speaking of “Avatar,” that is the easiest comparison in terms of groundbreaking visual landmark. James Cameron was a large supporter of Cuaron during the early stages of this film, a whole seven years ago back when the technology used to make his project wasn’t even invented yet. “Gravity” is also a movie about impossibility. A bleak phrase appears on the screen before the first shot begins: “Life in space is impossible.” Years ago, this film was impossible. And going back further decades ago, space travel was impossible. Cuaron dares us to see what impossible can achieve.

It all starts with a gorgeous 17-minute shot that establishes medic Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in the vast expanse of space inside their suits on assignment to repair Hubble. “You can’t beat the view,” Kowalski says, gazing down at the blue earth. He’s not kidding. That is until a storm of catastrophic debris destroys their spacecraft and sends them adrift with no easily feasible way of getting back home. Terror sets in for both them and us.

Though epic in scope, Cuaron’s film is simple at its core. It’s about high-powered technology going wrong, like a shipwreck movie in space. (Which is curious because Robert Redford’s literal shipwreck movie “All Is Lost” comes out later this year.) Apart from the visual wonderment, the sound design in “Gravity” is equally astonishing: the contrast created from loud, overwhelming bass crescendoing into absolute, pure silence. And even the sound from the perspective of the characters where voices come through over radio and the muted thumping of all other sounds, it’s like we’re right inside the suit with them.
The dialogue is one thing of note. Why is Kowalski so jokey and chipper? Why is Ryan egging herself forward with motivational cliches? Because if not for their own voices, there is only stark silence. It’s that terrifying thought of loss of self and affirming one own’s tiny existence in the universe that establishes Cuaron’s humanism. For any step into sentimentality, however, there’s a constant undertone of existential dread. There’s really only so much that can be said about “Gravity” because here’s a film that says it all for itself. Never have the words “you have to see it to believe it” meant more. Go see it.
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