I didn’t want to see Gravity.
Driving into the parking lot, I was still waffling. I didn’t want to miss it on the big screen if all the positive feedback was true, but I’m just not a “stress movie” kind of person. Gravity is about astronauts who get stranded in space and their attempts to find a way back to earth, and I can’t hardly stand it when things go wrong over and over and over, just when you think the person is going to be saved. My fear was that Gravity would be a long, drawn out, tension filled kind of movie. I just absorb movie emotions like a sponge, and steeping in my own anxiety for an hour and a half is not fun for me.
Thankfully I did go in and see it, and let me tell you, that hour-and-a-half movie went by in about 30 minutes. The next day I saw it again on the biggest screen I could find. If you’re going to see this movie, take my advice and see it on the biggest screen you can, and definitely in 3D. I haven’t been a 3D fan in general, but that technology has advanced so much in the past couple of years that it’s simply amazing. And while I’ll definitely buy Gravity when it comes out on dvd, I can safely guarantee that it won’t have the same impact as it did when experienced in the theater and in three dimensions.
Because truly, Gravity is a stunning work of art.
The first time I saw it, I literally thought, “this is like witnessing the brushstrokes of a master painter.” I was in awe of the genius and skill that can go into movie-making. Every shot seems purposeful and well planned; Director Alfonso Cuarón knows exactly where he wants us to look and when. He uses 3D not as a gimmick to make you flinch, but as a tool to impress upon his audience the amazing beauty and vastness and empty loneliness of space. This is not to mention the use of camera angle and focus.
Most importantly though, Cuarón uses perspective to the best advantage that I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever.
The camera alternates back and forth between the main protagonist Dr. Ryan Stone’s perspective and an observational attitude, making the audience teeter between participant and spectator. The first time we trade viewpoints is particularly well done and effective. There were times when I felt the physical urge to reach out and help her as I looked through Dr. Stone’s eyes and saw her hands struggling to find a grip. In a movie with a necessarily sparse storyline, this use of first person perspective allowed me to really connect with Dr. Stone in what felt like a very personal way. I knew just what she was feeling because I could see what she was seeing and it was scary as hell.
Equally amazing and memorable is the use of sound. Our primary auditory perspective is that of Dr. Stone, where we hear what she hears and don’t hear what she doesn’t. For example, as she’s using a tool, we experience the sound as a kind of dull vibration heard through her space suit. And you wouldn’t think that not hearing something being destroyed in front of you would be more frightening than hearing it happen, but somehow it is. I almost feel that the sound perspective pulled me in even more than the visual. I could go on and on about the use of sound and silence in this movie, but I don’t think I can do it without spoilers. Suffice it to say that the use of sound is the most impressive and memorable part of the movie for me in terms of overall experience.
But all of that skillful manipulation of camera and sound would be of no use if the story was overdone.
This isn’t for everyone, but one of the things I loved about the film is if you look at it in terms of storyline, there’s not a lot going on. You could tell the whole story in a paragraph and be done. But the beauty of it is you could write an entire book on what this movie is about. It isn’t just about what happens in the action of the movie, it’s about what happens underneath the action. I said before that the story is necessarily sparse and I do believe that. This film could have easily been taken over by dialogue and action sequences. But keeping the story simple and quiet allows the audience to focus on the experience of what it’s like to be Dr. Stone throughout this ordeal. The point of the film is not for us to focus on the decimation that’s happening around her, but the decimation that’s happening inside of her.
And as much as what happened to Dr. Stone, this movie is about what happened to me as an audience member. It’s about the sobs that tried to bubble out of me when it was over. It’s about how on the way home I alternated between wanting to cry all over myself and feeling elated and hopeful. How I keep thinking about it days and days and days after I saw it. That’ s kind of an amazing thing.
And that’s the beauty of art, is that in its most profound form, the artist’s intent isn’t to slap you in the face with his own opinion, but to plant a seed inside you. And what grows there, what you get out of it, depends on who you are. The piece of art becomes almost secondary to the emotions and thoughts that it creates inside of the viewer. Cuarón definitely succeeded in creating a profound work of art here; he didn’t just make a movie, he made me think. And feel.
Even the title is a brush stroke on Cuarón’s canvas, because really this movie is about the opposite of gravity. It’s about floating through space, twisting and turning in the nothingness without a solid place to plant your feet. There are other things out there with you, people, tools, places of temporary refuge. But ultimately all those things are as fragile as you are.
What we need, what we long for, what we search for, what we must have is something so much bigger than ourselves, with a mass so much greater than our own, that not only can it hold our weight, but it clings us to it. Once we find it, its gravity won’t let us go again, won’t let us fall back spinning into that dark emptiness. It’s permanent; not fragile. The things that destroy us can not destroy it. It’s big enough for us to plant our feet on, to be a foundation for our life.
In the movie, Stone seeks salvation in lots of different places. We can relate to that, in that we try to stabilize or even save our lives by putting our faith in lots of different things. It could be the people in our lives, our things, our country, our job. All of these are represented in the film in one way or another, but all of them fail to save her. (Stress movie, remember, so that’s no spoiler.) And while there are a few religious references within the movie as well, Cuarón leaves it up to us to decide for ourselves what our own foundation should be.
But the other play on the title Gravity is that it means weight or significance, “extreme or alarming importance”.
Ultimately what this movie left me thinking about most is how important it is the way we live our lives, what we put into our lives and what we take from it. Dr. Stone had practically stopped living well before this mission ever began. In the opening scenes we observe her serious, quiet work and hear her speaking as little as necessary and without much inflection. Juxtaposed against her demeanor are Mission Commander Matt Kowalski floating through space in an easy manner, telling stories and making jokes. This is his last mission, and he purposefully soaks in the beauty and marvel of the universe. It’s Engineer Shariff’s first trip into space and he is positively giddy with excitement, eating up every moment. Where the weightlessness of space makes Dr. Stone nauseous and stiff, Shariff is as delighted and experimental as a child. He’s living this experience with every bit of his being. In stark contrast to her colleagues, Dr. Stone is just there to do the job as quickly as possible and go home.
As you know, that proves to be more problematic than expected. A catastrophic accident sends Dr. Stone spinning through space. There is no gravity, nothing large enough to draw her in and provide a safe foundation for her to stand on. Nothing that will cling her to itself. As she goes through the process of trying to find a way home, she must face the reality that her life was already lacking in gravity. She was weightless and floating before she ever left Earth. She had emotionally shut down and given up. Her life had no weight or meaning to her anymore.
Matt Kowalski: Do you want to go back or do you want to stay here? I get it, it’s nice up here. you can just…shut down all the systems, turn out all the lights…just close your eyes and tune out everyone. There’s nobody up here that can hurt you. It’s safe.
How important to you is your life?
How much weight do you place on the way you live your life? How do you want to go through this life, and what do you want to get out of it? Will you make it a life well lived, fully lived? Do you want to stop dead in your tracks when life hurts you, or do you want to push through it? Do you want to look around and appreciate where you are, giddy with excitement that you actually get to live? Or do you just want to get the job done so you can get out of here?
I loved this movie and I loved that it made me think about both my life and my faith. I don’t think everyone will get the same things out of Gravity, nor (as I said above) do I think we’re all supposed to come away from it with the exact same message. It depends on who you are and what you’re looking for. Certainly if you’re into big explosions or major storylines, this movie isn’t for you. But if you’re into subtle storytelling and big themes, themes with gravity ;), then give this one a try. In the theater, in 3D.
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