Gravity is no ordinary movie; it is an experience, in every conceivable sense of the word. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s fluid, free-floating camerawork, long, sustained takes, and numerous point-of-view shots, combined with the haunting sound design (which is built largely around eerie silences—space is, after all, a vacuum), make the viewer a participant in the action in a way that even most video games aren’t able to match.
Which is not to say that the film is all shallow spectacle; on the contrary, the visuals are propelled forward by compellingly flawed, relatable characters and a strong central theme. As the story unfolds, we discover that Sandra Bullock’s heroine, rookie astronaut Ryan Stone, is still coping with the sudden, tragic death of her four-year-old daughter. Even weighed down by Earth’s gravity, she was drifting aimlessly through life, unable to move on—so when her mission is threatened by a massive field of debris, she’s ready to give up, float into the dark void, and embrace her end almost immediately. It’s up to veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who remains cool, confident, and optimistic even in the face of certain doom, to help Stone find the will to keep fighting, to survive, to live again.
Thus, Gravity is a feast for the soul as well as the eyes: a gorgeously-realized, triumphant affirmation of the strength of the human spirit that makes every minute of nail-biting tension absolutely worthwhile. No words could illustrate this point better than what I witnessed as the end credits rolled: nearly every viewer in the theater remained seated, digesting the full weight of the ninety-minute journey that they had just shared. That is evidence of a truly special example of cinematic storytelling.
[Originally written October 13, 2013.]