Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a tale of human survival set in the nebulous, disorienting depths of outer space. It would have been easy for a ninety-minute film with such a premise to fall flat on its face. A few astronauts drifting about in the vast emptiness that lies just beyond the earth’s atmosphere could be very, very boring. However, stellar performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, dazzling visual effects and dizzying camerawork ensure the film keeps you on the edge of your seat.

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Whilst the crew of the space Shuttle Explorer is servicing the Hubble Space telescope, a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite initiates a chain reaction that results in a cloud of space debris which collides with the telescope. Mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) spirals away from the shuttle, and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) uses a jetpack to retrieve her. As they scout out the remains of the shuttle, they discover that they are the sole survivors. Hopelessly stranded, they strive to reach the International Space Station before their oxygen is depleted and the debris orbits towards them again.

Gravity does an excellent job at portraying the intense claustrophobia inside the space stations and the sense of utter solitude outside of them.

Gravity was made with 3D in mind, and it definitely shows. The vertiginous distance from earth and weightlessness are conveyed through the motion-sickness inducing cinematography. The camera view bobs from side to side, spins rapidly on an axis, and navigates parts of the ship from the outside. Tools and other objects come flying out of the screen, drifting towards the audience. Gravity does an excellent job at portraying the intense claustrophobia inside the space stations and the sense of utter solitude outside of them.

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There is no doubt that Sandra Bullock delivers the emotional brunt of Gravity. No matter which state of mind Stone is in – hysterical, composed and calculating, desperate and melancholic – her performance always strikes the right tone. Stone’s internal struggle, simultaneously lamenting the death of her child and mustering up the strength to survive, add a poignant layer of meaning to the film.

Whether he was giving commands or just making idle conversation, Clooney’s performance is genuine and entertaining.

In addition to this particular tour-de-force, George Clooney should be lauded for his excellent portrayal of the charismatic patriarch Matt Kowalski. During much of Kowalski’s screen time, whether he is giving commands or just making idle conversation, Clooney’s performance is genuine and entertaining. It should also be noted how well both actors’ mannerisms mirror that of actual astronauts. They give great performances despite being in an environment very few people have experienced first-hand.

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Although Gravity can be enjoyed for its more superficial thrills, Cuarón subtly suggests some powerful themes. Stone is an incredible distance away from earth, so the Chinese and Russian languages are a comfort to her when she interacts with them aboard the respective space stations. Thus, Cuarón suggests a common humanity regardless of nationality, which is reinforced through religious symbolism: the view of the Ganges River reflecting the rays of the sun, the picture of St. Christopher in the Russian station, and the Buddha in the Chinese station. Mankind’s spiritual search for meaning continues even in the darkness of space.

[Gravity] is frightening, awe-inspiring, and thought provoking.

Gravity is a stunning work of cinema that truly sets into perspective the progress of space exploration and relative size of the earth. It is frightening, awe-inspiring, and thought provoking. We as humans may all be of different races, creeds, and religions, but in the end are defined by our commonalities rather than our differences.

Thomas Shipley

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