What is this? You may ask (Fortasse requiris – sorry, that structure always reminds me of Catullus). She’s reviewing film!? Yes, yes I am. Because I can and because it’s a set up that would work very well in a theatrical sense.
It would be foolish of me to say that the following sentence contains spoilers – the visuals are *stunning*. That goes without saying – the amount of work and the size of the team working their technical wizardry has paid off. It basically has to be seen in 3D. Mindboggling. The variety of long shot and close-up to contrast between the sublime and the claustrophobic are really done masterfully here. I could basically look at that for hours, without any plot. This leads me neatly to my next point.
The set up is rather absurdist. Not absurdist in the “Haha! That’s absurd!” sense, but in the Beckettian notion of shouting into the void (quite apt in the realms of space). Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and their crew are attacked by debris caused by a satellite explosion, which causes a chain reaction of chaos, confusion and a chain of incredibly bad luck as they try to find their way to each other. Ultimately though, it’s about Sandra Bullock’s story of survival and her means to overcome the losses that she has experienced on Earth. There are no aliens, no monsters (except in our own heads), no other civilisations – we are the only ones kicking in this universe. The overriding message is: there’s nothing to see here, folks, so enjoy the view.
There is an extended metaphor of birthing, which isn’t new when it comes to art dealing with the representation of space. Think of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. I also dealt with this Russian Doll effect in Cuckoos and Chrysalids (although it’s about how people will use technology to privatise and conquer both spaces – the womb and space itself). It’s very apparent in one scene whereby Sandra Bullock floats in a fetal position, having escaped near death by another debris shower, enjoying what peace she has (unsurprisingly, it’s short lived). It’s tense, repetitive and ultimately meaningless, but it’s her story that gives it meaning. There is a scene where she shouts to the radio, where the crew replies in Chinese. She sings along with them, enjoying this connection that transcends the language barrier; only to find out that they’re singing to a child and not to her. There is a spiritual essence in the strength of her character in the face of almost certain imminent death and no hope of rescue – her escape will ultimately be a re-birthing, to emerge from the void once more.
And yes, Gravity is sexist, quite strongly so. I do realise that Sandra Bullock is inexperienced in the mechanics of space flight and George Clooney is the veteran, but even when she’s a brilliant medical doctor, he advises her when her oxygen is low, to “breathe slowly. You’re inhaling CO2 now, which will make you feel dizzy”. Patronising much!? Even I could tell that! There even is a segment whereby Bullock mentions on several occasions that she never manages to park correctly on the simulator, and has to rely on the instruction manual. Really? Really, guys? A lot of screen time is also taken up by her being tethered around by Clooney, who flirts with her rather oddly, but hey – it’s George Clooney. And Bechdel Test!? What Bechdel Test?
I’m not going to say much, because I can’t really without giving the ending away (I could tell you the whole plot in a sentence without leaving much out) that in terms of visuals – it’s an absolutely stunning experience. I saw this film with a friend whose background is in Artificial Intelligences and Physics and he is basically the most intelligent person I know – when he says it’s pretty much accurate apart from a few niggles here and there, I’m inclined to believe him.