“Gravity” debuted over this past weekend, starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and planet Earth as seen from space. It’s difficult to tell which one is the most beautiful, especially when they all look so nicely lit by starlight. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón of “Children of Men” fame, this film is a father-son effort, co-written by Cuarón and his son Jonás.
The movie is a technical feat, using the weightlessness and soundlessness of space to its advantage: bursts of light, movement sans chaotic noise and the tiny space-suited figures of astronauts adrift amongst the stars makes for a visually stunning hour and a half. Just as immersive documentaries about the deep sea are disorienting and otherworldly, Cuarón’s portrayal of space is a dizzying lesson in physics. At one point, Bullock goes spinning endlessly, and first-person perspective shots let the viewer join in on the nauseating fun. The interiors of space stations are afloat with the materials of day-to-day astronaut life, and both fire and beads of water drift away from their source, dazzling viewers watching in 3D.
Already heralded by critics for its special effects, “Gravity” is primarily a character study, something that is quite fascinating when there are so very few characters at play in outer space. Without giving the story away (or adding to the brief “they get stuck in space” narrative you’ve seen in trailers), Clooney’s team of astronauts are on a shuttle mission to make repairs on the Hubble telescope when disaster strikes and Clooney and Bullock are set adrift, completely alone and without communication with Earth. The narrative follows Bullock in particular, whose character Doctor Ryan Stone is on her very first (and undoubtedly most exciting) space excursion. When you take a character up into space, their humanity becomes the focus in that black, spacious void: the desire to live, the desire to assist others, the desire to define home and get back to it.
If Clooney is known for his easy charm, Bullock should be known as the master of unsure, guttural noises. Whether she’s a disgruntled tomboy navigating pageant-worthy heels for the first time or an astronaut desperately trying to avoid being hit by space debris, this woman owns the “uh,” “oh” and “eh.” And here’s a movie where she’ll probably win an Oscar for it. Utterly believable, she fills the screen whether she’s in a large panorama of stars or inside a claustrophobic escape capsule.
Though the plot does hit a sentimental weak spot when Stone’s personal history is revealed, “Gravity” is otherwise a flawless film. Part disaster-situation survival story and part ode to outer space, this movie has all its stars in order: the ones Bullock and Clooney drift through and the ones the critics are awarding it.