It’s more than a week since I saw Gravity, so it seems a bit passé to write about it now. I wanted to at the time but went to London to see The National the next morning, and have been stupid busy ever since. But I think it’s still on in cinemas, so I’ll quickly spew some thoughts. Beware spoilers, obviously.
Straight off the bat, Gravity is an awesome phenomenological cinema experience, bar some of the score, which became intrusive and unsubtle at times, especially towards the end. I am not a fan of 3D at all – as I’ve written before – but I would go as far as to say that you shouldn’t watch Gravity any other way; it felt absolutely intrinsic to the fabric of the movie, essential to immersion in the experience – and immersion is the right word – and to what Gravity was about. It certainly didn’t feel like a gimmick (think of those golf-ball shots in Avatar) or like it was grafted-on post-partum (John Carter of MARS). Cuaron seemed to be setting out to make a movie about space that could express the visceral nature of being an astronaut, floating weightless in zero gravity, and 3D was an essential tool in conveying that sensation. At several points the 3D made me feel incredibly woozy and dizzy and physically uncomfortable, almost inspiring motion-sickness. I can’t imagine the effect would be anywhere near as intense in 2D, even on a massive Imax screen.
I do have some issues with the way backstory and character were dealt with, though. Essentially (spoiler alert) I felt it was 100% unnecessary to write-in a dead child as part of Sandra Bullock’s character’s motivation. I’ve read accounts from Cuaron of things the studio wanted to do, like include flashbacks and scenes of people panicking at ground control, and I’m intensely glad that he fought to keep these elements out of the film; it would have been a much lesser experience had they been included. But the Bullock bereavement felt false to me, and extraneous, and as such it lifted me out of the otherwise superb atmosphere of the film. George Clooney’s character was humanised by allowing him to crack wise and listen to country music while spacewalking; Bullock’s was humanised by killing her child; she literally had no other interests or relations.
I’ve read some comments on this which suggested it was an inversion of the trope where someone finds the will to live in order to see their children / husband / dog / etc (delete as appropriate) once more, and, to be fair, I quite like the life-for-life’s-sake aspect of that reading, and it chimed nicely with the Buddhist vibe of the escape pod; but you could have inverted that trope just as effectively – more effectively – by not killing the kid, by allowing a female character to be defined by something other than her relationship to her offspring. Coming from Cuaron, who directed Children of Men – where every character, including, importantly, the male protagonist, is defined by their relationship to their children – and Y Tu Mama Tambien – where the female lead escapes being defined by children or lack thereof – it felt disappointing. Dying alone in endless, infinite space and loneliness felt like peril enough as motivation to keep living to me, and likewise being marooned alone in space after experiencing absolute catastrophe on an escape pod with no fuel and no parachute felt like reason enough to give up, too. You didn’t need to factor in anything else; wanting to live is the very essence of being human, and resigning yourself to inevitable death is no less so.
I’ve seen some people complain about a certain religiosity in the film, but I don’t agree with that criticism; in fact the opposite; when Bullock clambered out of the primordial soup like the first creature to walk, it seemed explicitly evolutionary to me. Add in references to Buddhism and any atheistic reading of the film as pro-Catholic sci-fi seem pretty frothing and Dawkins-esque to me. And the comedic placement of the 3D frog seemed a deliberate ploy to burst any bubbles of over-profundity, too.
As an aside, you may be interested in this short film by Cuaron’s son (Gravity’s screenwriter), which enlightens us as to the other side of the radio conversation Bullock has with someone on Earth near the film’s denouement.
Cuaron is one of my favourite directors of recent times, and Children of Men is one of my very favourite films. Gravity was a spectacular cinema experience, but, for me, relied so much on its format and medium for its impact, that I can’t see it being something I’d want to experience again at home on Blu-Ray particularly. It’s a hell of an achievement and I’m very glad I’ve seen it in the cinema, though.