Gravity is one of the most eagerly anticipated and well-received movies of the past year – hell, the past ten years – and is set to pick up a string of nominations at every awards ceremony this season, with Alfonso Cuaron’s direction and Sandra Bullock’s performance leading the charge.
Let’s face it: Gravity is very, very good. It is, in my opinion, the best film of 2013.
It emerged as the potential late favorite for Oscar wins, appearing after historical epics such as The Butler and the devastatingly brilliant 12 Years A Slave, and comedy-drama American Hustle had long since positioned themselves as favorites to scoop the top accolades. Gravity tells the fictional story of a routine operation on a space satellite where two astronauts (Sandra Bullock’s medical engineer and George Clooney’s seasoned astronaut) find themselves the sole survivors following a chain of devastating and random events that prevent them from getting home.
It’s perhaps not a film that screams ‘Oscar contender’ but nonetheless, it goes deeper than just a shallow sci-fi thriller and has won a slew of critical and commercial praise – becoming one of the biggest films of the year.
Simply on a surface level, it makes space cool again. Cuaron’s story could have equally have taken place at the bottom of the ocean with its themes of isolation and an inhospitable environment, but the film comes at a time when space exploration and the idea of movies in space had reached a nadir after the explosion of space movies in the 1990s. Once all the meteor disasters and space horrors had dried up with the general public, the big black nothingness was largely left alone in film.
Using some of the finest 3D ever utilized, the movie is all about the void, the emptiness of space, and is shot in such an incredibly beautiful fashion that it makes the Earth seem like a character in itself, silently watching but never acting, and forcing the innocent humans to take charge themselves. Space is both beautiful and terrifying, remote and everywhere we look, making it the perfect backdrop for the film’s themes and cinematic journey through the emotional linchpin of Sandra Bullock’s protagonist and with a truly magnificent score by Steven Price that deserves recognition and praise on its own merit.
In Gravity, Sandra Bullock gives what is possibly one of her finest performances, if not her strongest to date. Rather than being burdened down with a lengthy backstory, her character Dr. Ryan Stone is a survivor – someone clinging to mere existence and crippled with inconsolable grief following the death of her daughter in a random accident.
With no one to blame, Ryan’s anger has turned inwards, rotting away at her, and her journey in the film is the backbone of the entire experience – we, the audience, project ourselves and our past experiences of pain, loss and shame onto her. Bullock is a marvel in the film, ably supported by George Clooney who acts as the junior partner in this dream team by bringing his archetypal warmth, support and gravitas to the role. Yet still, it’s Bullock’s film, and she carries it with dignity, intelligence and a likeability that made her an every-person on a deep thematic journey that resonates throughout Gravity.
Quite simply, Gravity is a film about the human experience and about the journey of restoration and resurrection that everyone goes through during low points and darkness in their life, brought to the big screen as astronauts fight for survival during a crippling asteroid attack.
Cuaron’s themes and religious leanings come into play once Clooney’s Matt has sacrificed himself to keep Bullock’s Ryan alive – from the shot of Ryan floating in the airlock as akin to a foetal position to the oxygen-deprived vision she has of an unlikely but angelic Matt that tells her to keep going, religious undertones are present throughout as Ryan both finds her inner strength and is able to use the tools to restart her life. The reason the film is so notably tense is because we fear that the disaster may spell the end for Bullock – and through her role as audience surrogate, ourselves as well. Throughout Ryan’s journey and the isolation and the struggle she faces to return to the life-giving, life-affirming Earth, Cuaron suggests throughout that hitting the rock bottom is the only way to climb back up – Bullock’s revelations and inspiration only come along after she prepares for a quiet, dignified death when all hope seems lost.
These themes suggest that Gravity is a film about the collective human experience – of endurance, of survival, of hope, and of faith, and therefore make it a huge cut above the rest of 2013’s films by offering a big, hopeful suggestion about mankind’s general and inherent ability to restore the good and redeem itself. Many critics have suggested that Cuaron’s Gravity symbolizes ‘the bright future of cinema,’ a film world where spectacle is used in conjuncture with heart and emotion and intelligence, rather than as pure popcorn entertainment; and it, possibly more than any other film nominated for Best Picture, deserves the accolade for leading the future of cinema in this brilliant, bold, and bright direction.