The Emperor’s New Film: Gravity

Written for Spoonfed (Originally published in October 2013)

In recent bewildering news, Gravity has launched to the top of the US Box Office (pun intended) on its opening weekend. Over eager Americans aside, it remains one of the most vacuous films I’ve ever seen.

It begins with a verbose George Clooney and a nervous Sandra Bullock floating around in space suits trying to fix some equipment against the clock. Spread out all around them is the vastest of canvases. Beautiful, planetary images surround them and stars and space and wonder. But while Clooney’s telling Houston about heartbreak and Mardi Gras, Bullock’s sweating through her space diaper, alluding to a Mulder and Scully-esque unlikely friendship blossoming amidst tragedy.

Don’t count on that though, as after a warning from Houston about space shuttle debris coming their way, they find themselves in a frantic race to get back to their shuttle as a wave of sharp metal comes hurtling towards them (note: escaping the dangerous shit that’s powering through space is a scene that will repeat itself over and over and over). They are separated and reunited and separated once more with a lot of meaningful talk about how she has to “learn to let go.” I’m not giving away much, the trailer will tell you this is a film about solitude, determination and overcoming adversity.

But that’s where writers Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón have mistakenly convinced themselves they have given some depth to this character. When Dr. Stone (Bullock), reveals she’s still mourning the death of her four year-old daughter, it becomes the lynch pin on which hangs any interest you might have in her. With no one to get home for, is she content to die alone in space?

But that’s simply not enough. As with any film that rests on one solitary character, that character has to be the richest thing about the script but in Gravity, Dr. Stone is deadweight. While the cinematography is great, it adds nothing to the human or cinematic conception of space. I’d rather just go to a planetarium and be spared the tedium of Sandra Bullock’s heavy breathing and saccharine lines.

It is possible to read into every moment, to appreciate the complex sound design which reveals crackly messages from NASA to be as frustrating for Stone as they are for us. It’s also possible to sympathise with her perplexity, feel her loneliness and wonder if you’d have the strength to get back to Earth. But you have to be seriously invested for this kind of emotional response. If you’re not inclined to love Gravity, or you just can’t get over the banality of the lines, the music becomes glaringly two dimensional (always epic but things are either going inspiringly well or catastrophically bad) and Clooney becomes just plain irritating. That’s right, not even charm a la Clooney can carry this film.

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