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Cuaron’s Masterpiece: The Welcome Pull of Gravity


“The body, she says, is subject to the force of gravity. But the soul is ruled by levity, pure.” – Saul Bellow

Gravity is a film worthy of being in the same room as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 in that the visual effects are as groundbreaking as the message is deep. In truth, so many films I’ve seen here in Telluride have been an answer to what ails Hollywood. If the Academy had a category for effects-driven films (and they really should by now) Gravity would win hands down. Effects-driven films don’t have to be mindless and shallow. They don’t have to be what’s expected. Instead, they can reach you from a distance and pull you into them. They can expand the minds of audiences, challenge them intellectually as well as visually. Gravity accomplishes this.

Gravity is a film that feels like it’s almost holding you under water for 90 minutes. You don’t really breathe while you’re watching it — you kind of sip air, like wine, until it comes to a close. It is a spectacular feat of filmmaking, that doesn’t let up nor show you any mercy. The truth about this film is that it should be seen without you knowing anything about it. I already knew a major spoiler going in but it didn’t ruin the experience, still, not knowing in this case is better than knowing.

It seems like an easy call to say Gravity is in line for a Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Screenplay, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing, Score, Cinematography, Art Direction also possible. Normally I think it’s pointless to make such predictions until the film actually lands. And indeed, Gravity or any of the films raved about here could ground out once Oscar season starts, No one ever knows a film’s fate once it leaves the coddled atmosphere of the festival circuit. Right now, hope springs eternal. These films feel so immediate, so alive, so exceptional. But Toronto is coming, and many more films will be opening. If tradition holds, the Best Picture winner will have been seen heading into Toronto. We keep asking each other what will win? What can win? No one would have thought after Telluride last year that Argo was the winner. But it’s likely here somewhere.

Gravity could have been just a film about its stunning visual effects -= but it’s the unlikely meditation on the inner world of a woman in her 40s — a fully developed human being with a past, actual depth of character, in charge of her fate. Cuaron had insisted that they not change the lead from a woman to a man as the studio had wanted. Movies with male leads often make more money — it’s written somewhere in the handbook on how to manipulate the herds into spending maximum dollars on reliably formulaic movies — only a handful of directors have ever worked with a singular woman in space – Ridley Scott, most notably, who surprised everyone with Alien by putting Ripley in charge. Gravity feels as rare as Alien must have all of those years ago. It’s just not something you see every day.

The focus on Sandra Bullock is what sets Gravity apart at the outset. George Clooney is her co-star but the story is solely and mostly about her — she is the one who must rely on her wits, her training, her courage, her strength, her iron will to survive. The film then falls into two distinct categories — it’s a visual effects space movie and it’s a survival movie. It goes hand in hand with All is Lost and 12 Years a Slave, but it also can be seen as an effects-driven blockbuster — to say anymore would be a spoiler so I won’t go there.

The score is riveting, matching the intensity of what’s happening on screen. Is that your heart pounding or the sound effects? It’s impossible to tell. The 3-D is as essential as it is in Avatar or Hugo or Life of Pi. You probably wouldn’t get the same feeling of being in space were it not for the 3-D. It always feels real and very very frightening. Of all of the things to be afraid of in life, tumbling through space with nothing to hold on to is probably not one many people think of — or if they do, it’s unfathomable. This is one among many reasons that makes Gravity a unique experience at the theater. The visual effects will bring them in, but they will take home the story.

Sandra Bullock has given one of the best performances of the year. She will join Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench as frontrunners in the race. What I most loved about Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone was that she doesn’t need to be a female character acting like a male character — she is allowed to be a woman and still kick ass. Did Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron know that Gravity is such a personal fear for women? Did they know that it was a metaphor for our fear of gravity’s toll?

We humans have adapted to Earth’s force of gravity and rely on it daily. It hugs us to the Earth without our giving it a moment’s thought. For women, it’s almost a curse — it pulls our skin downward, makes our breasts sag. Many of us curse it — we long for weightlessness. But after watching Gravity, nothing feels more welcome.