Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Warner Bros., 2013)
Films like Alfonso Cuarón’s magnificent Gravity are few and far between. Too often, American moviegoers are set adrift between the opposite extremes of banal Hollywood spectacle and opaque independent art fair. Cuarón’s exceptional new film manages the rare feat of creating a heart-pounding special effects tour de force while also providing thoughtful content in a style worthy of the best art films.
Gravity begins with a stunning shot where the camera circles almost weightlessly around a small crew of astronauts doing repair work on the Hubble Telescope. An accident soon sends two astronauts, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), desperately searching for safety. The precariousness of their fragile humanity in the vastness of space is powerfully foregrounded through wide-angle shots and a depth of field brilliantly enhanced by 3-D.
Discontented with technical mastery, Cuarón pushes the film to never lose track of the central story. Amid the staggering emptiness of space, the fear of death, and the failures of technology, the human connection shines through. The stories Matt and Ryan share, the personal objects that float past the screen, a tear that drifts from Ryan’s eye toward the camera—these things draw us beyond the masterful special effects to discover the story of rebirth at the film’s center.
Cuarón uses a brilliant leitmotif of infancy to help establish this. A cathartic shot of Ryan floating in the fetal position backed by an airlock door, an icon depicting the Christ child being carried by a saint, and the unexpected transmission of the sound of a child crying—all of these moments make us aware of another journey taking place. It marks a deeper one from death to new life. In fact, Cuarón cleverly opens the door to interpreting this journey through the lens of God’s grace. Gravity, then, is a rare film indeed.
This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 12, page 42).