Movie review: ‘Gravity’

| Senior Cadenza Editor

When I was growing up, I was never one of those ambitious kids who wanted to be an astronaut. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s new movie, “Gravity,” a thriller about two astronauts stranded in space, did not change those ambitions, but it opened my eyes to the wonders of space. It’s a breathtaking thrill ride from start to finish, as devoid of faults as space is of sound.

Cuaron’s previous movies include “Children of Men” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” With “Gravity,” he has truly become one of our most visionary living auteurs. He wrote the screenplay with his son, Jonas Cuaron, and fought for its development with the studio for years before finally getting it made. The passion and fight in the elder Cuaron shows on screen as well. He’s known for his long takes, and the opening shot of this movie is his best yet: 17 uninterrupted minutes of space, a shuttle repair and a storm of debris while the camera dips and dives around the characters. Whereas 3-D usually takes me out of the movie because the glasses never seem to fit right, I treasured it here as I felt like I was floating in space alongside the astronauts. It speaks volumes about how incredible and photoreal the visuals are that I’m unsure whether to credit cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki or the special effects team for them. Not since “The Hurt Locker” have I spent an entire movie on the edge of my seat. The first few thrills were chilling but unnecessary jump scares, but by the end of the movie, every moment of tension and bated breath was completely earned by the movie.

The score, by little-known composer Steven Price, equals the visuals in scope. It’s a mostly digital one, although its most powerful moments utilize a more traditional choir and string instruments. The entire soundscape of the movie is stunning, and really, the movie depends on it. It knows when to cut out the sound, too, and the silent moments of a lonely astronaut in front of the black canvas of space or the familiar blue-green glow of Earth are haunting. I may never know what space truly sounds like, but I hope it sounds like “Gravity” does.

And the fact that Cuaron got two bona fide, Academy Award-winning movie stars to play his astronauts is just the cherry on top of an already perfect movie. George Clooney, in his role as a grizzled astronaut on his last mission before retirement, finally uses his leading-man charisma for something other than “I’m selling you something.” He imbues his performance with a warmth that calms both his fellow astronaut and the audience. It’s hard to envision someone else being able to pull that off. And Sandra Bullock is patient in her lead role, performing the mostly thankless emotion of scared until finally, completely alone other than the thoughts in her head, she pulls off the best acting of her career. Though Bullock’s character doubts herself at first, she becomes determined to get home, and the movie becomes about her journey and how much we, as humans, are capable of if we put our minds and hearts fully into something. The last 25 minutes of the movie left my eyes teary and my heart bursting as I so desperately wanted her to make it home. I’ve never rooted for a character in a movie so much.

Yet for all its ambitious visuals, sonic wonder and spectacularly precise camera work, “Gravity” is a traditional Hollywood crowd-pleaser at heart. One crucial scene toward the end, whose contents I won’t spoil, elicited loud cheers and an ovation from the audience. And when the film finished, we all stayed in our seats just a smidge longer than usual, still blown away from what we had just experienced. In a changing media landscape in which viewers watch cinema and television alone on their 13-inch laptop screens and the best movies seem to never be the biggest, Alfonso Cuaron has created something that deserves its scope, its grandeur and, most of all, your attention. So see it in 3-D, see it on the tallest screen possible and see it in a room crowded with people. Even the biggest cynics among us will be inspired by “Gravity.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.