There is a well-known saying that has preceded nearly every horror movie set in space seemingly since we figured out that space is unending and that saying is, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which is by no means a horror movie but could have been, tells us point-blank how much of a loaded statement that is. You can hear yourself scream. As you spin and spiral through an unending spread of still blackness, you can hear the deafening, panicked shrill of your own scream.
Gravity used sound beautifully. Gravity did everything beautifully, to be completely honest. The movie begins in deceptive simplicity. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a talented medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. She’s helping to service the Hubble Space Telescope and treats the experience the way you’d expect a first-timer to do: she’s straight to the point and a little nervous. Working with her is veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who’s on his final run. He drifts around her, wearing a thruster pack and cracking jokes with Mission Control. He’s casually chatty and having the time of his life, clearly pleased about the fact that he got to do this for a living in the first place.
I loved that about Kowalski. In so many movies that pair the vets and the rookies, the veteran is crotchety and tired. He or she is always ready to move on and doesn’t understand why the rookie joined this beat in the first place. Kowalski, however, is still enjoying the view. His mellow voice in Stone’s ear is also the voice in the audience’s ear. So when Mission Control alerts them to debris from a nearby space station coming their way, he is the voice that guides Stone (and us) to do what must be done to survive and make it back to Earth.
I don’t want to go too deep into the plot because this is a movie that lives and breathes for the unknown. Each situation that arises, each obstacle that sends us adrift into a deeper, darker scenario is meant to be experienced firsthand. There is a sense of helplessness too, effectively underlying the fact that space is not our usual battlefield. We live through Stone as she strives to win this terrifying battle and Cuarón puts her through her paces. We are reminded swiftly that space is the ultimate opponent. You can experiment all you want out there, you can explore, you can take bits of it home, but we will never forget that a miscalculation out there means an endless float to a frostbitten end.
To pit ourselves against it is to also be reminded of the fragility of humanity. Thus, this was both an excruciating and beautiful film to watch. Cuarón uses sound, and often the lack of it, to make us cringe at the tiniest hiss. The camera’s angles are superb, going from tight, near-claustrophobic close ups to panning shots of huge, sprawling inky blackness that looks so convincing that it’s easy to believe it’s the real deal. George Clooney joyrides through the film, having as much fun as Matt does while Sandra Bullock brings the heart and soul as Stone, proving that she’s deserved every award she’s ever gotten.
Put it all together and Gravity is a solid contender for one of the best films of the year. See it in theaters, in IMAX 3D and take a couple deep breaths. You’re gonna need them.
Gravity is playing in theaters everywhere.
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