“Gravity” is a stunningly beautiful visual experience, capturing the vast stillness of space in a way that highlights man’s existential plight in the universe.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two astronauts who become unmoored while on a routine assignment by the news that debris from an exploded satellite is hurtling towards them at tremendous velocity. They must get back into their spacecraft, an extraordinary feat that has us on tenterhooks and leads to our witnessing a disastrous chain of events.
Within short order, Sandra Bullock is the sole survivor of the mission, left to devise a strategy for saving herself without the help of radio contact with Houston, the vital connection that has also been severed. From the initial graceful gliding of people floating in space, we switch to frenzied attempts to remedy or circumvent technological malfunctions that multiply by the minute.
Without giving us sufficient time to contemplate the horror of her extreme isolation, the film throws Bullock (and us) a fire, a tangled parachute, the need to decipher instructions in foreign languages and eventually a near-drowning. And since all the preceding isn’t personal enough, we get a backstory of a mother, alone and brokenhearted by the death of a child. Her retreat from the world of the living is highlighted by the spacesuit and helmet that both protect and entomb her - eventually, she will need to shed them and resolve to re-discover life in real and figurative ways.
On its deepest level, “Gravity” explores the need for humans to connect with each other and the devastating impact of solitude - in work, in life, in death, in space so unlimited we can’t even contemplate its infinity.
These are profound issues and the first part of the movie rivets us by the slow pace and hushed tones of the characters’ exchanges.
Undoubtedly a decision was made that a mass audience needed more action and from that sprang the sequences that ultimately detract from the seriousness of “Gravity,” turning it into the Perils of Pauline in Space. Two of these difficulties would be momentous enough for most adults; the remainder are there to satisfy the young and restless who need a constant ratcheting up of danger and novelty in lieu of contemplation and awe.
By the movie’s end, the final desperate scenes and crescendo-ing score hammer home a message more akin to Rocky than to 2001. With all the overload of incident, “Gravity” actually loses weight and gives us less than its initial promise.
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