Gravity (2013) written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron
At its heart, Gravity is a fairly simple story. Two astronauts are repairing the Hubble Telescope when a storm of space debris cuts them off from their ship, leaving them adrift in orbit over the Earth. How can they make it back to safety before their oxygen runs out? What resources can anyone find in the void of space?
The movie is quite elegant in its visual and aural storytelling. The movie begins with a long sequence during the Hubble repair that gives viewers a sense of the disorientation of space. The camera moves around fluidly to show Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working on a Hubble computer array while Matt Kowalski (George Cluny) flies around casually in a jet pack hoping to make a new record for an untethered spacewalk. Weightlessness and directionlessness are the norm. Conversations are had in clipped jargon over radio communications. Other sounds are muffled as the characters have contact with objects. Throughout the movie the score pops in and out seamlessly, heightening the emotion of scenes without dictating a reaction from the viewers.
The plot is a basic survival story, moving from one distressing set of circumstances to another to another. The set-up invites comparisons to Apollo 13, though that movie is all about teamwork and problem-solving with a bare minimum of resources and time. Gravity has an even barer minimum of resources and time with only one veteran astronaut and a scientist new to space. Contact with the surface is cut off, forcing them to rely on whatever is left in space. The horror of their directionlessness sets in.
This lack of direction is also the key to Dr. Stone's simple but affecting character arc. At the beginning of the story she says her favorite thing about being in space is the solitude but she soon changes her mind when nearly complete isolation sets in. Bullock gives a wonderful portrayal of vulnerability and strength; viewers become deeply invested in her as a character. Will she have the spirit and resourcefulness to survive?
As I say, the story is a fairly familiar one. Analysis of such a story falls into two camps. One camp says that the story is a little hackneyed because it has been done many times before. It's a bit unoriginal and therefore uninteresting or at least a weak part of the movie. The other camp says that the story is a classic tale that we as humans keep returning to, reimagining it in new and contemporary situations. I had a philosophy professor who said, "Eternal questions are always contemporary." Survival is always an issue for people, whether they are prehistoric cavemen or medieval plague victims or suburbanites trapped in the "wrong" part of a big city or astronauts lost in space. I fall into the later camp and think this movie is a splendid example of a survival story. And not just because it is about physical survival; the movie also touches on the tragedies in all our lives and the need to continue on after misfortune befalls us.
I highly recommend Gravity, especially seeing it in a theater with 3D, where the visual and audible aspects have their greatest impact.
Parental advisory: The moving has some swearing (including one f-bomb), one or two dead astronauts whose appearance is shocking, and a continual sense of dread.