Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity: Glorious Spectacle

I checked to see a 2D version of this film on the internet and went to my local theatre, who charged me extra and gave me the glasses.  "This is a 3D showing?" The cashier nodded.  "Dang, I really can't see 3D. It's all fuzzy to me."  He said, "I'll tell you what.  If it's a problem, come to me early in the film and I'll give you your money back."  That's fair.

The trailers didn't seem too fuzzy, but they weren't inspired, either.  The extra dimension seemed attached to the screen, unrealistic, pointless.  Then the feature film began.

Spectacle, glorious spectacle.  This is what I saw when I first saw Star Wars in 1977, opening my eyes to the cinema experience.  It is what I hoped to see when I saw Avatar a few years ago when my 3D vision was all fuzzy.  From the very first shot of the three astronauts in a space walk outside the ship Explorer, I am stunned.  And rather than get bored of the vision of the massive Earth as a wall portrait, I am never comfortable, never apart from the awe of this vision.  This isn't due to the 3D, although it didn't hurt it, either.

The story is pretty basic.  There's no deep characterization, the symbols used are pretty basic.  But what does it matter? The characters are so basic that the film suffered no impediments.  This was an uncomplicated odyssey through the most dangerous nature humanity has ever explored.  The majority of time in the film was spent in the harshest environment possible, and it was not just the confident Clooney or the trembling Bullock who had to face this sparser-than-the-arctic enemy, but I.  It was me, floating above the earth, trying to remember that I would not fall, at least not yet.  I suffered vertigo throughout the film.   I had to remember to breathe.

This film is also a disaster film, where the human mechanism, needed to survive, failed in a big way.    And it isn't just a one-time disaster, but one that visits again and again, pouring tragedy upon our lives in a cycle of fire and doom.  The space ships are islands of humanity, but they are not places of hope, reminding one of home, but pockets of emptiness and chaos.  The film is relentless, pounding, increasing it's intensity at every moment, without respite.

No, there's nothing deep. But the experience is unforgettable and immense. 

I think that 2013 will, for me, be the year of science fiction.  My three favorite movies (so far) were all wonderful explorations of the genre: Upstream Color, The World's End and Gravity.  They are all unique and powerful versions of SF storytelling.

Minor spoilers below.

I am fascinated by a theory about Gravity that has been bouncing around.  That the whole of the film was symbolic, that it is Bullock's state of grief after her child died.  That she is weightless, drifting without purpose or meaning in life, and that Clooney's character is her guide to get past grief and back to Earth (real life). 

There is also the womb symbols that are used, with the water at the end being her rebirth into life.

I think that these ideas are interesting, but they don't add much to the film for me.  Still, the first theory I might find interesting next time I watch it. 


  1. Sounds like you lucked out; this was easily some of the best 3D since Avatar, IMO. I agree with you completely about the experience of watching the film, but I found an unexpected amount of depth in the visual narrative despite the simplicity of plot and symbol. The interpretation you offer after your spoiler warning originates with the film's director, I think, and it certainly holds up. I actually explore both it and my own slightly more heady, metaphorical reading in my most recent post ( I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.

  2. Excellent. I think that giving the film a broad metaphor (about all human experience) rather than specifically about Bullock's grief is brilliant of Cuaron, and gives the film universal appeal. However, I think that the few details we have of Bullock's background-- the death of her child, the long hours of work and driving-- actually take away from that universal connection, and make it more her story than ours. I still think that the takeaway of the film is how it is we who are having this experience, and we who are making the choices between life and death. But it is easy to lock onto these details and miss the point.

    Still, your analysis is top notch, and I recommend it.