“Gravity” follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer, and Captain Matt Kowolski (George Clooney), an astronaut, as they complete their space mission. Things go horribly wrong; however, once the bumbling Russians accidentally cause a chain of satellite collisions that send a cluster of debris floating perilously in their direction. Thus begins a series of, shall we say, unfortunate and somewhat unbelievable events that serve as obstacles in Dr. Stone and Capt. Kowalski’s journey home.
If you haven’t picked up on the clichés, you may wish to reread the previous paragraph and consider nearly every space film ever created. Conflict, of course, is the heart of all stories. Unfortunately, “Gravity” never delivers on a more nuanced thesis other than what seems to be expected; the fragile yet ultimately tenacious spirit of humanity.
Faced with these overwhelming, deep-space obstacles threatening her annihilation, Dr. Stone wavers along the spectrum of human response; but with only the hackneyed threads of a back-story, one wonders whether she would have been more compelling a character were her story to remain completely undisclosed—especially since the exposition of her character is essentially naught else but a string of clichés itself (e.g. “Tell my (deceased) daughter I found her red shoe—she was so worried about finding it.”)
None of this is to discount the thrill and suspense of “Gravity;” on the contrary, it is but to highlight how Cuarón fails to exceed any of our expectations of the space-suspense genre. “Gravity” does deliver on excitement, but the absence of compelling character stories, the odd tension between the cinematography and the soundtrack, and the ambiguity of the narrative voice overall, all point to a promising concept weighed down by—could it be—too great a consideration of Hollywood. In other words, Cuarón shouldn’t have held back and ought to have taken his vision further artistically (a la Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”).
If you’re looking to be put on the edge of your seat with suspense, go see “Gravity.” Just don’t expect much else other than a bit of light-headedness.
2013 - Fall - Issue 6