“Explorer, do you, do you copy? Houston, do you copy? Houston, this is Mission Specialist Ryan Stone. I am off structure and I am drifting. Do you copy? Anyone? Anybody? Do you copy? Please copy. Please.”
Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Release Date: October 4, 2013
MPAA rating: PG-13
Director(s): Alfonso Cuarón
Producer(s): Alfonso Cuarón, Chris DeFaria, David Heyman, Stephen Jones, Nikki Penny, Gabriela Rodriguez
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
When you were young, were you one of those kids who hated the downward pull of gravity? Because without it, you can fly?
Well, I didn’t exactly hate it, but I often liken the possibilities if it didn’t exist.
My thoughts have orbited to a full circle after I saw Alfonso Cuarón’s record-breaking 3D thriller, Gravity, last weekend, especially when I felt like I really was a weightless observer floating in space, my five senses wholly engrossed in the subliminal 4DX experience at Grand Indonesia’s Blitzmegaplex.
Setting by far the largest October opening in box-office history (of an estimated USD 55.6 million), Cuarón’s super-ambitious, super long-awaited piece (took him almost five years to make, as he told Wired) has been bagging high praises from the world’s most respected film viewers and makers alike.
Before stepping in to the theatre, I recommend steering clear of any expectations out of this flick. It’s not some damsel-in-distress movie you see coming out more and more these days, nor is it an action-packed blockbuster you would expect during the summer.
This is as vague as I’m gonna get: Gravity is an 80%-under-the-water iceberg dexterously portrayed through a small looking-glass. “Nearly everything is a metaphor for Sandra Bullock”s character,” Cuarón told Wired. “She lives in her own bubble – she needs to shed her skin to move on.” By way of a woman’s solitary ordeal against the unspeakable odds, that is, facing the possibility of never ever getting found in the infinite void, Cuarón has reduced his scope of the human experience to survival mode, diving into a deep and visceral exploration of our primal instincts to find the being that pushes us beyond our limits in the existential fight to live.
The opening’s seamless 17-minute take, a Cuarón camera trademark, begins with a distinguished medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first shuttle mission, accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on his last. Stone was repairing the Hubble Space Telescope for reentry to Earth, when Mission Control in Houston told them to abort the mission. A Soviet missile allegedly destroyed one of its own satellites, and massive debris from the destruction flew at rocket speed and crashed into everything that crosses its path, including Stone’s shuttle. The entire shuttle crew onboard was dead, leaving Stone and Kowalski adrift with a reserved amount of oxygen, whilst losing all forms of communication with ground control. How will they make their way back to Earth? Will they ever? Well, see the big screen for yourself.
My 4DX 3D experience was, how should I put it, surreal. I was constantly pulled by the characters’ movements, like, literally. The thought of venturing out into the awe and terror of deep space was scary enough (thus a newfound respect to astronauts), let alone experiencing a multidimensional simulation of it.
It’s also next to impossible to digest the fact that about 90% of the 91-minute screening, only Bullock’s and Clooney’s faces were real – the rest is CGI’s magic. Cuarón’s extensive use of 3D technology and special effects was outstanding in a non-gimmicky way. As most silver screen miracles have became the new norm, especially in pop sci-fi, Gravity is refreshing to the eye because it’s real, and by real I meant the events that stack up in the film are real possibilities that can organically unfold and actually happen with NASA missions – not some dragon or fairy or superhero we can only wish were real. In fact, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man who walked on the moon, expressed his amazement of the film’s accurate renditions of the reality of zero gravity in his review of the film for The Hollywood Reporter, to which he concluded with: “I was very, very impressed with it.”
I also love the dynamic balance between the two characters. Clooney owned the lightheartedness of Kowalski, a role originally given to Robert Downey Jr. but he later dropped due to scheduling conflicts. I love that this character could still find humor even when he’s stuck 600km-high above the Earth, though in times of even the most severe distress, he’s the go-to guy you can rely on for help. Now I don’t wish to reveal spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film, but a turning point of the plot revealed just how transparent Kowalski is, something that puts faith in humanity. It made me think that if only we live in as harsh a natural setting as ultra-low air pressure and with only a finite amount of oxygen on Earth, humans would discover just a bit sooner that it’s pointless to dedicate our whole life to save our skins from trouble.
Stone’s emotional density offsets the jovial Kowalski. The character, also a vacant role passed down from Angelina Jolie to Natalie Portman, underwent a tremendous development throughout the film through countless moments where she’s only minutes to death, nonetheless a familiar heroic story told in a simple plot and Bullock’s uncanny delivery. Her character, beautifully flawed, stood out even against the backdrop of the stunning cinematography. She emerged from a place of fear and anxiety to one where she confronted her present reality, removed from her tragic backstory, and accepted the worst – even as her life was literally suspended, literally hung by a thread. She almost gave in to the pull, knowing her mortality’s coming to a close and nobody’s around to push her. Only with a brazen will to survive could she rise above the low, hopeless cockpit of isolation, which was portrayed figuratively by the little escape pod she cocooned herself in during the crux of her trial.
I guess when you’re floating amidst the cosmic space of rootlessness without your own will – seeing nothing, hearing nothing, and detached from everything – all you can really be is your most vulnerable, most primal self. Anything less than that is self-destruction.
I’m going to die today. I know, I know, everyone dies; not everyone knows the day. (Dr. Ryan Stone)
If I were to extract a life lesson out of the film, is that there’s nothing worse than nothingness itself. A huge portion of Gravity reflects the irony that even if we’re equipped with the most sophisticated communication technologies in history, we feel more disconnected than we’ve ever been.
It seems as if each technological breakthrough creates a larger distance between your presence and the real deal. We humans always want more, and perhaps we’re wanting more faster than we realize our needs to survive.
When Stone was asked what she liked most about being up there, she said, “The silence.” I can relate a lot to her – you just want a moment of peace. You just want to retreat from the daily inanities and wander farther out to see the big picture. Unplugging is an essential routine to re-energize, yet sometimes, the so-called big picture can be deceiving. The danger behind wandering too far a fetch is just as, if not more disastrous than sweating too much on the small stuff, which involves you moving in orbit.
About 90% of the film took place in the outer space. In the massive darkness and deadening silence you start to notice your insignificance as you watch the Earth spinning peacefully, watching life revolves with or without you. Life happens even when you are not involved, but at the same time, you are not going to die today.
Though disasters happen everyday, fatal ones are more likely to happen when you’re adrift in space or at sea, because you have nothing to hold on. You’re loose, remote, and obscured, stripped down to your most vulnerable self and subjected to random happenstances. Imagine what will happen to you during the total eclipse.
I pondered on the idea for a while, and came to a conclusion that no matter how much weight we have under the belt, or how many a burden we carry around, it’s always better than without. Ideally we are strong, gravity-defyingly strong to fly at our own will and unaffected by externalities, but letting ourselves get found and stay connected, whichever way it may be, ultimately prevents us from ceasing to exist.
At least, that’s the message I got out of watching space’s worst-case scenario in the realest sense.
My rating: 4/5
In other news, this is me half-aware that my picture was taken. I have zero idea what I was about to experience and now I’m urging you to try it.
If you haven’t already, book your 4DX 3D seats for Gravity now on Blitzmegaplex!!