Here’s a moviegoing experience almost all of us have had: A friend comes up to you and says “Oh wow, dude, you’ve got to see [insert title here]. It’s more than just a movie. It’s an experience. I couldn’t believe how much it made me feel. Seriously, don’t miss this movie. It’s so amazing.” Then you go see the movie, and even if you come away liking it, you feel like your friend oversold it. It wasn’t an experience at all. It was just a really entertaining movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the point is that actual experiences at the movies are few and far between these days. We’ve been jaded by years of CGI and Michael Bay bombast, so we’re always inherently skeptical of those movies that are supposed to make us forget we’re watching a movie and leave us to actually feel what’s going on. It’s OK to be skeptical. Really it is. But I”m here to tell you, this time we really have been given a true cinematic experience. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is, quite simply, one of the most stunning cinematic achievements you will ever see, and it achieves this by not just dazzling you visually, but by giving you an incredibly intimate look at a simple fight for survival in one of the most hostile environments imaginable: space.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is new to space travel. She did her training fast, went up on the Space Shuttle Explorer, and hoped to execute her mission and get safely back down to Earth as quickly as possible. Working in zero gravity doesn’t agree with her, but she’s about to get the most harrowing space travel experience any astronaut has ever had. When an exploding Russian satellite generates a cloud of debris that will destroy almost anything in its path, Stone and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut on his final mission, find themselves staring down a catastrophic space disaster. In the end, they are the only survivors of this terrifying mishap, and they find themselves adrift with no communications, few resources, and a single goal: get home…somehow.
If you’re tired of the bloated blockbuster experience, this film is your antidote. It’s 90 minutes of story that take place almost in real time, filled with long, unflinching takes and special effects that are always delivered more for the sake of realism than for the sake of visual delight. The fight for survival is portrayed here as a palpably dangerous, relentless journey, not as a cheap, action-fueled thrill ride, and the result is a film that makes you hang on its every moment rather than wait for its next big setpiece. Setting aside all the truly dazzling effects shots (there are many, and they are all worthy and breathtaking), Cuaron has given us a vision of catastrophe that we might want to recoil from (if it were me in Stone and Kowalski’s situation, I certainly would), but simply can’t, because it’s all so stunning. It’s a dazzling contradiction, and this is a perfect example of a filmmaker who walks that line perfectly.
This is also a film that’s quite simply one of the best acted you’ll see all year, or ever. You hear a few other character voices, but you never see another living face apart from Bullock and Clooney. They have to carry the film in the most literal sense, and they both rise to the occasion with absolute mastery, displaying all the magnificent vulnerability and stubborn strength people in their position are supposed to. Bullock in particular delivers something absolutely compelling, giving the performance of her career. For all of Cuaron’s wizardry, this film simply does not work without Bullock and Clooney, and their contributions are so perfectly measured that they both should get Oscar nominations right here and now.
So, we close with the viewer experience. Gravity will thrill you. It will enrapture you. It will leave you on the edge of your seat. It will make you feel like no other film you’ve ever seen has made you feel, and will leave you haunted with its beauty and terrifying reality. This is true cinema artistry. This is the real deal. This is what we always want movies to be. This is a towering cinematic achievement that will stay with us forever, but even after saying all of that, I still feel like I”m underselling this film.
To put it simply: Gravity is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. It’s the stuff of cinema legend. Don’t miss it.