** SPOILERS **
Life Is Impossible In Space
Astronauts are in constant danger in outer space. Any mishap, from equipment failure to an exterior collision with space debris, could spell disaster and death. For astronaut Sandra Bullock, everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong. Murphy's Law violently assaults Bullock with all the malice co-writer and director Alfonso Cuaron can muster. Cuaron's incredible cinematic tour-de-force Gravity is a textbook case of one damn thing after another: a routine mission in orbit goes completely haywire in a matter of moments when a shower of debris batters the space shuttle piloted by Bullock and her fellow astronaut George Clooney. So devastating is this debris shower that the neighboring International Space Station and Chinese space stations immediately abandon ship and escape to Earth. Bullock is separated from her berth in the space shuttle and careens helplessly through space. It's horrifying. She's a goner.
Luckily, Bullock is not a goner. Clooney, zipping around with a jetpack, is able to rescue her before she floats beyond Earth's orbit. They manage to make it back to the International Space Station but they're not out of the woods by a longshot. More frightening calamities ensue, and Gravity strips away options for survival gradually, until Bullock is left all alone to accept her fate that she's going to die. Who could really blame her? The odds against her are insurmountable. The last act of Gravity where Bullock musters the will to live and then does everything humanly possible to reach the Chinese space station and pilot the last remaining escape pod back to Earth is magnificent; it's a rousing counterbalance to Cuaron's bravura direction in Gravity's first half where the beauty of Earth as seen from orbit and the horror of Bullock's predicament are in symphony. Cuaron's alternating use of the silence of outer space and Steven Price's haunting score as jarring dramatic cues, plus the breathtaking cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki where the camera moves into Bullock's helmet into her point of view and back outwards, are masterful.
The experience of Gravity is thankfully not weighed down by oddball bits like Clooney basically just playing himself in an astronaut suit; his constant jabbering betraying both the screenplay's obvious exposition and curious head scratchers like how he explains to Bullock, a medical doctor, what happens to a human body when exposed to the vacuum of space, as if she wouldn't know. It's also strange how a woman with Bullock's psychological makeup, still grieving for the loss of her daughter, would make it through NASA's vetting. Unless NASA is extremely lenient when it comes to movie star astronauts. Bullock and Clooney's conversations also are bizarrely of the "getting to know you" variety, when they should have already spent weeks together prepping for the mission in space and working together. Unless Clooney really did do all the talking all that time while Bullock pouted silently in the corner. A welcome tip of the hat to Apollo 13 is Ed Harris as the voice of "Houston-In-The-Dark" mission control.
Gravity is a gorgeously photographed, immersive, stunningly visceral cinematic experience. Pure filmmaking of the highest order. In its breathless majesty depicting cruel realities of humans trying to survive in outer space, Gravity is perhaps the closest we'll get to what it must have felt like for audiences decades ago to see 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. As we root for Bullock struggling against unfathomable obstacles to survive multiple catastrophes in space and attempt to return home to terra firma, Gravity is also a relentless 90 minute anxiety attack. A white knuckle, hold-your-breath triumph of the human spirit, Gravity is a most of all a triumph for Alfonso Cuaron, cementing him as one of the great directors of movies.