Gravity (London Film Festival 2013)
Remember the metaphor in Melancholia? Where the crashing planet was even called Melancholia? Well, Sandra Bullock suffers her own mental breakdown and rebirth: symbolised by floating in space and resting in the foetal position. However, while the fiery climax of Melancholia looks magnificent on the big screen, it can’t compare to the rhythmic, breathtaking ballet of Gravity – considering how particles space themselves out, it should really be called G......R......A......V......I......T......Y.
The action opens with a glorious shot of Earth, as seen from outer space. Already, the viewer is transported to a place of wonder, with the bobbing camera itself feeling the motions of zero gravity. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, is already celebrated for his long single takes (check out Children of Men), and opens Gravity with one of his most accomplished examples: Bullock repairs a space telescope, while George Clooney cracks jokes in the background, before both are knocked into physical and existential displacement. Bullock’s role in space in unclear, given she’s a medical engineer who radiates her unease through her space suit. Clooney, on the other hand, reminds me of a real life Buzz Lightyear, with the same casualness reserved for walking a dog in the park.
When debris knocks Bullock and Clooney off course, the duo float perilously, grappling for anything on which to hold. The direction of each small push is significant, frequently pausing the heart in terror; two astronauts heading to their likely deaths, in front of Earth’s glorious sunset, is both terrifying and poetically beautiful. Think of it this way: a slow-motion disaster played out in real-time.
The viewer spots where each object is heading; by being a few steps ahead, the inevitable close call builds up its tension. Cuarón, aided by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, occasionally switches the camera to Bullock’s POV, and it’s frightening – the bodacious score isn’t afraid to scream, screech, or suddenly shut up. “I like the silence,” says Clooney.
If you’re not distracted by the hypnotic spectacle, you might catch some of the unnaturally background-heavy dialogue between Bullock and Clooney. I get that nobody will rush for an IMAX 3D screening for the language, but Bullock is responsible for conversation so clunky that it should have satellites in its orbit. In a short space of time, she reveals the tragic loss of her child, hinting that space travel is a way to escape from normal life. In return, Clooney somehow manages to squeeze in his own romantic troubles, as if they’re part of a highly exclusive speed dating event.
Of course, Gravity bagged a large budget, so it could have been forced to adapt even further for a mainstream viewers – the hypothetical audience that will supposedly walk out of a cinema if there isn’t enough sentimentality. Subsequently, Bullock’s solo scenes are packed with unnecessary monologues concerned with self-improvement – at no point is there any real belief she’ll consider suicide or staying in space.
These quibbles, however, are similar to the scientific inaccuracies: who cares? The visuals are so spectacular, I almost punched my fist in the air when a single tear drop unhurriedly emerges from the screen.
Amid the emptiness of the outer atmosphere, there’s much to admire, if not the facets of home life taken by astronauts. Sure, taking a family photograph makes sense, but at one point a ping pong bat flies past. Does the sport work up there? And a ping pong table is impractical in a house, let alone a spaceship. It does, however, bring a human quality to Bullock’s lonely surroundings that won’t let her rest. Even if she thinks space is a final hiding spot, the laws of physics disagree.
Gravity is, quite fittingly, the London Film Festival’s American Airline gala screening. More information can be found here.
United States of America
90 mins approx