“Gravity” kills: Thoughts on Alfonso Cuaron’s dazzling hit


I skipped Alfonso Cuaron’s long-anticipated “Gravity” at TIFF13 due to scheduling issues, and also because I knew it would be coming my way soon. I skipped a couple Buffalo area screenings because I was not sure if I wanted to see it in that context. But I finally saw it, and I am glad I waited. It was a very, very good film, one that in some ways feels immensely overrated, and in others, not at all. It is a dazzling achievement, and something he, stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and everyone else involved (especially cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) should be applauded for. It is certainly flawed, but its successes are so overwhelming that it is hard to be troubled by its missteps.

“Gravity” is a film that has already inspired writing, debate, criticism, and praise, but here are a few thoughts from me anyway (SPOILERS throughout):

It’s an experience, above all else. Several folks had told me the only way to see it was on IMAX 3D, and I believe they were correct. How would “Gravity” play on 2D? Or on TV, for that matter? I’m not sure, but I simply cannot imagine it would be as effective.

The audience can play a major role in one’s enjoyment of any film, and I believe that is especially true here. I saw it in an almost-full theater, but the viewers were attentive and quiet. There are moments that could inspire snickering, especially a tear-soaked Bullock monologue. I was very pleased to not deal with that crap.

Some of the dialogue was shockingly bad, but I wonder if that was somewhat intentional. Clooney, especially, almost seemed to be playing off of the idea of the charmingly rough-around-the-edges astronaut. Perhaps were meant to find his chatter as lame as it sounded?

That being said, he has some nice moments, especially (SPOILER) his late-film “re-appearance.” I think that was one of Clooney’s most perfect bits as an actor, period. (According to this Vulture interview with Cuaron, Clooney wrote his dialogue for this scene.)

It was difficult to fall right to sleep after arriving home from seeing the film, so I pondered. And I thought of a question that has a rather obvious answer, but still seemed worth pondering: Is it possible Bullock’s Ryan actually died when Clooney reappeared? And could the very end, the fall to Earth and her subsequent walk, be considered some kind of “heaven/afterlife” metaphor? Apparently the answer is … No. Here is Cuaron, in that same Vulture interview:

“For me, there was an ending and the ending was: She walks. It’s the first moment in the film that you see her walking. The film was a metaphor of rebirth; literally, at the end, she goes from a fetal position [earlier in the film, when she floats after undressing in the space station], then in the water [shot at Lake Powell, Arizona, with significant postproduction alterations to make it green and lush and butterfly-filled], to come out, crawl, go on her knees, and then stand on her two feet and walk again. You know, it was a bit polemic at some point with some people, with a kind of jaded, more mainstream thing, people saying, “But how do we know that she is going to be fine? How do we know that she is getting safely home? How do we know that she is not going to be kidnapped?” I said, “I don’t care, she is walking now!” I want to believe that if she survived what she survived … she’s equipped to deal with adversities.”

Long story short, my theory is a no-go!

Speaking of rebirth, Matt Patches ponders the film’s possible religious subtext at Film.Com. I can’t say I felt that, but it’s a very interesting argument, and one that would make a second viewing more meaningful.

Could “Gravity” be a Best Picture Oscar winner? It’s certainly possible, and undoubtedly a nominee. If voters see it as it’s meant to be seen, and find it a nice alternative to darker fare, absolutely. Its enormous, worldwide box-office success only helps in this regard.

Consider Alfonso Cuaron’s filmography for a moment:

  • 1991    Sólo con tu pareja
  • 1995    A Little Princess
  • 1998    Great Expectations
  • 2001    Y Tu Mamá También
  • 2004    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • 2006    Children of Men
  • 2013    Gravity

Seven fascinating films; admittedly, I have had “Sólo con tu pareja” in my rental queue for years and have not watched, but it sounds interesting, and it is a Criterion release. I will even stand by the underrated “Great Expectations.” (Emily Yoshida breaks down Cuaron’s career in a wonderful piece for Grantland.)

The “Yes, but is it realistic?” debate means little to me.

The alternate casting is intriguing. Downey Jr. could have worked, and so could (I HEART) Marion Cottilard, but the other names here all seem wrong in some way.

With “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” now released, one thing is certain: The fall-winter Oscar rush is here. Let’s enjoy it.

Lastly, I think my favorite writing about “Gravity” comes from the aforementioned Grantland piece by Emily Yoshida. I love this:

“Maybe you find Bullock’s grief for her daughter to be underdeveloped or don’t buy George Clooney’s chill pixie dream astronaut, but you can see the old Cuarón in there through the satellite debris, forever trying to unite the biggest pictures with the most intimate gasps for air. It’s nice to have him back; fancy meeting him up here.”