gravity; noun. 1 Physics the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass. the degree of intensity of gravity, measured by acceleration 2. extreme importance; seriousness: crimes of the utmost gravity 3. solemnity of manner: has the poet ever spoken with greater eloquence or gravity?
Alfonso Caurón’s Gravity arrives on a wave of hype and critical applause that for once justifies the end result – Gravity is a genuine masterpiece, not in the urgent, timely manner that many modern ones take but in its commitment to the bolting the old fashioned principles to cutting edge technique. What’s more surprising it this is the first film where the 3D is not an additional tool in the filmmaker’s toolbox but an integral part of the narrative, not enhancing the story but telling it. The 3D does not add to the viewing experience, the 3D is an essential part of the viewing experience. Gravity is a genuine game changer, visually astonishing, thematically relevant, a rare film led by a woman with mass appeal, a film by adults and for adults. That last fact alone means it is worthy of your time, but it’s genuinely more than that.
The success to this is that Caurón has taken the principle that a great script is required in order to make a great film. Whilst the actual sequence of events is unlikely to challenge anyone in terms of complexity (it is principally one series of events leading to another in a linear fashion with no narrative trickery), bolted to this simple framework are a series of wider questions regarding the nature of faith, environmental responsibility and sovereignty (amongst other issues – I’m convinced a second viewing will reveal a whole host of additional metaphors). Caurón is acting as the ultimate showman, aiming at all levels of the audience, appealing to all whilst being inclusive of everyone’s desires. Gravity is that rarest of beasts, a traditional Hollywood film bolted to art house sensibilities that are equally comfortable in either camp. Images of rebirth (both individually, emotionally and as a species) abound giving the film a deeper, more satisfying aftertaste than many others. Gravity will stay with you for days, as you move from exhaustion at the initial terror of the film (it is genuinely nerve wracking) to picking it apart for hidden depths. It almost demands multiple viewings.
Let’s get the easiest aspect of the film out of the way, technically this is superb. If this doesn’t feature heavily in every awards list for visual effects come awards season next year then there is no justice (and hopefully it won’t be limited to just effects, every aspect is award worthy). This isn’t a case of effects being used as a means of creative the artificial, but of effects being used to create as near to real as possible. There are sequences where it is difficult to believe that NASA footage hasn’t been used, where the actors haven’t been taken into a zero-G environment and that it hasn’t all been created on a sound stage. However, this isn’t the case. Every single frame has been visualised within an inch of breaking point for maximum impact, this is a director understanding film as a visual medium and employing every aspect of it to tell the story. Coupled with genuinely necessary stereoscopic imagery (I cannot comprehend how the emotional impact of one scene would work with conventional two dimensional film) the effects and cinematography alone (for it is difficult to establish where one craft ends and the other begins) would make this a genuine must see. Simply put, there isn’t a single shot in the film that hasn’t been crafted to perfection, and the opening ten minutes (a glorious single shot, although there must be CGI breaks in it to actually realise it) are some of the most glorious photography committed to the medium. Technically it’s astonishing and almost impossible to fault.
No film can survive on purely a technical level, and it’s when you look deeper that the true strengths of Gravity begin to emerge. Old school Hollywood star power is necessary in a film like this given that we are essentially being asked to pin our attentions on a single person for much of the film, and Sandra Bullock shows hidden depths in a role that doesn’t fill the normal stereotypes in order to elicit audience sympathy. Her character is strong, emotionally stable with none of the traditional awards bait and tics, but still she turns in a performance that is probably the best for years. The film needs a charismatic star for us to root for in order to relieve the audience of some of the pressure, but Bullock is asked to provide far more than that, something far more human than normal. One scene in particular reveals the depths that she is capable of and you can only hope that she’s given a chance to do braver films like this in the future. Clooney is likewise superb, graciously taking a back seat (he knows who the real star here is) but providing us the viewer with an element of comfort. His almost-voiceover at the beginning of the film acts not only as an introduction but also soothes us through the initial impact of the events to come, a familiar crutch to support us. His is a different type of heavy lifting, calming the viewer between the (literal) storms to come.
The true star is Caurón’s direction though, the craft of which his apparent on almost every level. The film doesn’t start out to be a documentary, sacrificing certain realities in support of storytelling, but it does set out and keep to its own rules. Gravity is the one force constantly absent in the film, but ironically the whole film has weight, tethered to its own physics and reality. The film lulls us into a sense of false security (despite ominously telling us that life cannot survive in space during the credits) before ripping the rug from under us in the most dramatic way possible. It is here that Caurón utilises the 3D medium to its fullest, throwing us into the very centre of the action as the world tears itself apart. The films (brief) running time is a necessity, anything more and it would be too much for the audience too bear, save for the opening ten minutes the film is a precise exercise in constantly building narrative tension, the thematic of the film as careful conceived as the visuals. Here that Caurón adds deeper levels to the film, discussions about the nature of faith (faith in man, faith in God but ultimately faith in yourself); of environmental responsibility (Earth dominates the film, both as a goal and a backdrop, and the nature of our responsibility to preserve the environment is at the heart of the matter) and the possibility of rebirth. Much has been made of this films connection thematically to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but whilst that film could be categorised as an intellectual exercise on the nature of man as a species, this is a much more visceral one. 2001 bolts a narrative to a deeper discourse, Gravity does the opposite. The narrative is key; but underneath is something far deeper, far more relevant. The last film that presented such possibilities was The Tree of Life, but this is a much clearer experience. Nothing Caurón has done before will prepare you for this, and it’s difficult to see how he could even begin to top this experience.
Ultimately, Gravity is essentially a cinema experience, unless you are one of the fortunate few to own a television the size of a small wall then the shock & awe aspect of the film will be completely lost on television. It is possible that television may allow deeper analysis of the metaphor (on my numerous viewings of 2001 on cinema and television, cinema remains its home but television allows it time to breathe), but a crucial aspect of the viewing experience will be lost. This is a film that demands to be seen in the cinema, to be experienced in its native format so that the artistry of it can be fully appreciated. For me, the best film since There Will Be Blood, rightly being called a masterpiece and an essential cinema experience, it cannot be recommended enough.