Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Dr Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first mission into space, and Matt Kowalski, an astronaut on his final mission before retirement, are the only survivors when their shuttle is hit by a cloud of debris. They can count only on themselves to find a way back home while they are drifting away into space…
After seven years (his last cinema movie was Children of Men) Cuarón is back on the big screen with a beautiful work enhanced by 3D. He is both director and author of the screenplay which he has written along with his son.
Next to, and almost “from within” the talkative, seasoned Kowalski (George Clooney, who starts foretelling the tragic event from the first minute) and the loner Dr Ryan, the viewer experiences the confusion and disorientation of a place/non-place where the coordinates of life stop existing. Both sound and the sense of distance is missing, and certainly gravity, all of which makes a shipwreck in the sea look more human and understandable.
This “cosmic shipwrecking” is different and strange: the limits of characters’ vital space are those of a space suit or of a tiny module, and our planet always shines on the horizon — sometimes like a splendid and unreachable mirage, sometimes like a Promised Land, filling us with nostalgia.
To this extent, Ryan’s journey is a space Odyssey, although this story has little to do with the movie of that name, but also is a clear parable about the meaning of birth, of life and death, a cathartic grief process, which is also a theme in Cuarón’s other work.
In fact Dr Ryan, who seems to really appreciate the silence of space, has a grief to process. It is a grief that somehow has parted her from the world and life long before the accident that physically breaks the connection and forces her to face cosmic space and herself.
It is hard to make the reader appreciate this struggle without revealing the details of an intensely involving plot that makes the movie look longer (although in a good way) than it really is. The storytelling is so thrilling that at some point the fact that the main character will actually make it back to Earth becomes, in a sense, less important than what happens in the meantime. Cuarón seems tom suggest that it is more important to find the strength to take up the journey and walk on, than to have certainty about reaching the goal. At the same time he implies that to find this courage is impossible unless that goal (known, begged, prayed) really exists. It is the goal (physical and spiritual) that defines the centre of gravity in every human being.
Although Gravity doesn’t deal directly with metaphysical matters, it is filled with an intense religious sense (starting with the many images, Christian and Buddhist, that are present in the space modules) which is awakened by the concrete possibility of death. The reaction of man here is not the simple reflex of an animal caught by fear, but the expression of the deepest essence of a human being in front of the mystery of existence.
The movie lives with continual tension and powerful images (its photography, deserving of an Oscar, is beyond doubt one of its strongest components) which enhance and almost make sacred the gestures of grasping and letting go (two key words in the story), but also the gesture of delivering and being born. Dr Ryan ends up symbolising the first human being striving for life, the first living being trying to breath the air and to put her feet on the ground.
Problematic elements: Images of corpses potentially upsetting for children; moments of tension within the limits of the genre.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to different magazines and websites about cinema and television.