Perhaps the most intriguing, impressive, and impeccably drawn aspect given to us by director Alfonso Cuarón's masterpiece, Gravity, is the well-crafted and intricately presented portrait of the triumph of the human spirit. It is this story, of one woman's decision to choose life over death, that he chooses to tell. That it happens to take place in space is periphery to this fascinating and compelling story—but that said, one couldn't ask for a more beautiful and spectacular view of the mysterious reality of space than what's presented in this visually breathtaking film.
From a technical aspect alone, even if there were no story being told, this movie would be a triumph of visual pulchritude. Since the explosion of 3-D movies and IMAX screens, it is often hard to justify paying the ever-soaring prices on those hefty tickets, sometimes approaching (and exceeding) the $20 marker. But every once in a while, a film comes along carrying no regret for such a pricey night out. Something like Avatar, for instance, a film for which 3-D seems to have been invented. And now here we are presented again with another visual wonder: Gravity is so lovely to behold, it takes you to a place where you just want to float with the characters as they watch the still, silent chasm known as space simply be, in its present, moving, and ever-changing, ever-expanding, seemingly endless vastness, whether it's during the sunrise around the earth, or the moment devoid of sound, in the film's opening scene.
From that moment forward, Cuarón has sucked viewers in. There's no turning away, as audiences cannot help but be gripped, on the edges of seats during the ride on which they're taken. The moments of serenity are so real, the moments of peril so intense, it's truly a unique cinematic experience that perhaps could arguably not truly be told via the means of any other artful medium. It is truly difficult to picture these ideas in live theatre, or even in a book, however imaginative novels may in fact be—though wordsmiths shall not be counted out altogether, as much can be crafted in the mind by way of so many words.
In any case, it's a movie unlike any other, and the spectacle it is on screen can certainly be claimed as unique.
But as previously stated, all of that alone would make the film stand on its own, however, atop the cinematic genius lies a story so simple yet so profound. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a technician sent on her first mission to space for service on the Hubble space station, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is a veteran space traveler, assisting and guiding Ryan on their mission. When nearby debris from a collapsed Russian satellite approaches and has caused irreparable damage to Ryan and Matt's work, setting items into motion (which the laws of physics tell us will be accordingly disastrous, as there is nothing to stop these items in motion, no force of gravity), and forcing them to abort their mission and try and make their way back to earth, the action truly heats up.
At one point, Ryan is literally doing somersault after somersault after somersault, after she has been disconnected from the space station, disconnected from Matt, from all things surrounding her and cannot stop this sickening, circular motion—just thinking of it now makes one almost relive the dizzying intensity of this sequence—and she literally needs to hope beyond hope that she'll somehow find her way back, (which she eventually does, as Matt reattaches to her, and uses his jet pack to get them back to the station).
Moments like this and others speak metaphorically to the real story being told. Ryan lost her daughter a while back, in a freak playground incident. She is living, and has been living ever since, a sort of half-life, surrounded by the interminable sorrow that a parent who loses a child goes through. And in the face of extraordinary danger, which Ryan is again and again and again throughout the film, (as one thing after another continues to go wrong in the quest to return to earth), she has to find the will to live against the completely understandable motion she wishes to make, in just giving up and allowing herself to die.
Matt's role in the film is a strong, supportive, but simultaneously minor one (but nevertheless important). He speaks as a voice of calm amidst the dark and ever-present danger that surrounds Ryan. It is a necessary force for Ryan, to cause her to look inward and realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel, life after death, resurrection after the darkness of her loss.
The casting couldn't have been more perfect. In picking these two leads, there is a yin and yang balance on screen that almost needs no words. In fact, when certain shades of the characters' back stories are given, the audience almost feels compelled to say: "we don't even need this" because Sandra Bullock's immediately lovable nature and George Clooney's soothing, suave, cool, and collected manner are present and intrinsically part of who they are as actors, as people, and by this stage in their careers, as manifestations of the beings they present to us on screen, because hardly anyone could've gone into this film and not known at least something, however minor, about these people and the way they dwell in the world, or at least have done, up until now.
In fact, Sandra Bullock's career choices of the last few years is certainly something of a noteworthy renaissance. The Proposal, The Blind Side, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Heat, and Gravity are all either critically and/or commercially successful, and dissimilar types of films. Certainly she defies the mythical post-Oscar winning "curse" that people always talk about. Plus, now that she has that adorable adopted baby, how could anyone not love her?
And if anyone were tempted to reduce George Clooney's acting to something of a schtick, it is this very Clooney-esque quasi-colloquialism and steady cool that propel not only the foil player to Bullock's brooding Ryan in Gravity, but so many of the great characters he has played throughout his career. No further testimony to his acting talent need be given than his role in The Descendants, which speaks for itself as the transformational role, and without a doubt, the best he has ever played.
In any case, the combination of such acting, with the directing, writing, sound, editing, sound editing, music, cinematography, and all the many elements that bring any film together, herein presented in their top form, Gravity explodes on screen as a wonder to behold. It is certainly one that should not be missed (if possible, on the biggest screen one can find).