The Scrivener continues his look at the Best Picture Nominees of 2013. Up next? Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity". Space can be a terrifying place.
Cinema has been a major part of my life since before I can remember. Movies have been one the most steadfast of things for me above everything else (even my betrothed, video games). The reason the love affair has continued for all my life is the very magic they have. Movies are medium, far better than any other I think, can truly transport us to a different plane of existence entirely. Bygone times, the distant future, places of dread and terror and amazing splendor and rapture. Movies can do so many things and, I think, it has been a long time since I've truly felt a movie did that for me. There have been so many great films over the past decade, no doubt, but very few can say they've truly taken hold of me and pulled me off on a true journey. Alfonso Cuarón, with his latest Gravity, cements himself (in my mind anyway) as one of the most necessary auteurs in film of the last twenty years.
Movies make me hyperbolic at times and when one affects me as much as this one did I tend to have loose lips. The thing about Gravity though is that we don't get many movies like this. This is a film that marries such visual marvel with such tight and efficient storytelling. My love of horror is well known by now and very few films in that genre filled me with as much dread and apprehension as this film did. The biggest of setbacks felt devastating and even the smallest of victories -- astronaut Ryan Stone flailing about trying to find anything to hold on to and finding a handhold on the side of an escape capsule -- made me feel joyous.
I found myself marveling, consistently, at just how gorgeous these views and vistas were. Space has always been something that has captivated us as a people but often we're stuck within the cockpit of a ship or in the midst of deep-space dogfights when it comes to film. Gravity, quite simply, manages to do so much more with so much less. The opening sequence, which takes 13 minutes to unfold without a single cut, showcases the visual brilliance of Cuarón's directorial eye but also Tim Webber's effect work. The camera sweeps around the Hubble telescope, currently in a state of repair, with the Earth hanging in the darkness of space as the backdrop. It was very similar in feel to his prior effort Children of Men when the opening shot is shown without a single cut as well. There is a sense of time passing that mirrors reality that works so well with such a shot. We see Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working on the arm attachment from the shuttle, attempting to install a circuit board into a coupling assembly (or something). Zipping around thanks to the jet packs in his suit Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is making sure things go smoothly and that all involved are safe. He cracks wise and tells of days long past, the hairy days of the 90's to Mission Control (an unseen Ed Harris lends his voice). Kowalski is a veteran and knows all the ropes when it comes to space walks.
A decommissioned Russian spy satellite explodes and suddenly the tension jumps fifteen damn notches. Chunks of said satellite start zipping by and, within moments, the arm Dr. Stone is attached to breaks free due to direct impacts upon it. The wily veteran goes into crisis mode and starts to work to get himself and Ryan back to the main shuttle. Their colleague, however, is not so lucky. We see a direct impact of the space debris and its effect upon the man's skull in a rather grizzly aside. The tension continues to mount as the damage done to the shuttle becomes apparent. Then the moment we've all seen in the trailer happens. An errant piece of space shrapnel slices through that tether binding her to Kowalski and suddenly a fear I didn't even know I had is being played out before me. Helplessly she gropes at whatever is within her field of vision to stop the somersaulting spin she's locked into now. The transition to her point of view only further solidifies the terror. Earth is coming into frame then swinging back out as her body rotates over and over again. We hear frantic breathing as panic has taken hold and communications are fading away.
This entire scene unfolds, as I said without a single cut, and it was so visceral and horrifying that I was gripping the arms of my chair. I had to hold on for dear life. That is why I go to movies. To feel something. To be affected. This is not just a movie about space, shuttles or even astronauts. This is a shipwreck survival story. This is similar to films like 127 Hours, All is Lost, where it isn't just about the situation within which our hero/heroine is stranded but that time in which we are all thrust into a place that seems impossible. Your life may be in jeopardy, maybe not, but the way out isn't clear at all. The fragility of your psyche and your own body are on the line and yet, somehow, you make it through. Why? This film is about the resilience of the human spirit just as much as it is a gorgeous film about a astronaut set adrift.
I will revisit this one again and again, I feel, because no other film in the last ten years has given me such a moviegoing experience as worthwhile as this one. This is what cinema needs to be.
Did you guys get to check it out? I know I'm late to the party but damn if this movie didn't blow me away.