Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review and Analysis of "Gravity (2013)"

“Ryan, you’re gonna have to learn to let go”

                                                                                                 -Lieutenant Matt Kowalski

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is a masterpiece to behold. Its a movie about life’s unknown destinations, the act of self-realization and to move on after accepting the biggest hurdle faced in life: loss.
Based on a screenplay by Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron, the film follows two astronauts, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and a veteran astronaut Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on a fictitious space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope. Within a few minutes of repairing the telescope they are forced to deal with a cloud of satellite debris heading their way due to a missile strike by the Russians on it. What Matt Kowalski calls a “right of disposal” immediately turns into an impending danger as the initial debris begins to hit other satellites and increases the size of the overall debris travelling towards their trajectory path. Being unable to change their trajectory within time the space shuttle which is named “Explorer gets bombarded by the debris and the astronauts find themselves adrift in the blackness of space. The film follows the aftermath of the incident and how the two astronauts embark on their survivalist journey to go home.

The opening shot of the movie itself defines the sense of silence, isolation and solitude experienced by the characters in space and how it contradicts with the noise and chaos in our home, i.e. Earth. Cuaron clearly paid homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:A Space Odyssey” by the extensive long focus camera shots. Its clearly a delight to hear the characters talking to themselves in a silent and calm environment, most particularly Kowalski’s short stories which gives a feel of how they are extremely comfortable to the environment around them which is clearly beautiful as well as dangerous. The two main characters themselves define the life up there: in one instance Dr. Stone says that she can get used to the “silence” up here and Lieutenant Kowalski says that nothing can “beat the view” of things seen here. There lies a difference between the behavior of both characters regarding things happening around them which is clearly explored once the disaster takes place.
Clooney plays the cocky and totally in charge Kowalski who always has a story, joke or a humorous thing to tell irrespective of the things happening around him. He acts as a sort of supportive figure to Bullock’s character, always trying to keep her calm by initiating regular conversations, trying to be ridiculously composed even after facing lack of fuel in his thrusters and lack of oxygen in Ryan’s suit. Its only through Kowalski that Ryan finds the inner strength of her character and learns to plant her feet on the ground to move on. As for Ryan, its only when Kowalski asks her about her home when we get to know her character who is  a woman who has lost everything in her life, most particularly her 4 year old daughter who was killed in an injury playing a game of Tag. Its a thought on how disastrous things can happen during a normal routine which reflects their situation indirectly. Since that incident, Ryan has lost faith and purpose in life and she has been continuously “driving” on this road without any sense of where her ultimate destination is. The subtle messages which Cuaron gives are very beautiful where the universe can be compared to Ryan’s life and how she is always floating adrift here and there without knowing where she’ll ultimately stop. Ryan has never been able to “let go” of her tragic past and Kowalski acted as a medium, a person which had to be gone from her life through which she will ultimately learn to move on. Its only when Ryan lets go of Kowalski that she gains the strength to accept her past losses.

 Its always stated that you have to accept your past to move on and not to cling to it else you will always be in a state of ruin. In this picture, Ryan clinging to Kowalski is a visual symbolism of her clinging to her past and how she has to let go to get back to her life,i.e., the ISS here. In a nutshell, the whole movie is about Ryan's journey and how by accepting her past she was reborn as a woman and once again came back to mother Earth. One of the images which Cuaron gave for the themes of life and rebirth is-

There is a scene later on where Stone gives up and accepts that she will die when she sees a hallucination of Kowalski which once again rejuvenates her inner strength. Here, the conscience of Stone begins to take place of Kowalski where she calls upon him sub consciously to give her the will to move on. Another memorable sequence in this film is when she gets out of the Soyuz pod to disconnect the parachute cables before the debris comes. Her musical humming while the debris destroys the ISS next to her face is truly terrifying where she knows the situation yet is trying to keep her calm, just the way Kowalski would have done. Its this transformation, rebirth and change from a weak (Ryan) to a strong (Kowalski) person. Also, in the final shot she is reborn back to Earth and emerges from the water all clean and fresh like a new organism where she starts to take “baby steps” to move forward. The scene of a frog swimming in the lake symbolises the concept of her rebirth from a tadpole to a frog.

The camera shots in the movie are marvellous. The long shots, particularly the first 13 minutes of the movie coupled with the regular upside down movement gives us a feel of how it is to float in space slowly. There’s a sense of disorientation felt when Bullock’s character floats adrift at high speed on initial impact by the debris. The shots of the Earth’s reflection swaying to and fro, upside down, left and right makes us feel the “vertigo effect. The film also uses first person shots like the image above to give the audience a feel of how the character is experiencing what is going on up there. Last but not the least, long distance shots of the universe where we can see a tiny glimpse of the astronauts and stars show us how miniscule they are compared to their surroundings.

  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney both give a phenomenal performance as Dr. Ryan Stone and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski and its sometimes hard to believe the difference between the actual character and the actors. Personally, I believe this is Clooney’s best performance since “Up in the Air and I expect to see him in more good future projects. His character even though in the film for only 30 minutes, makes a memorable impact on the audience and it’s a classic example of a film fact that “its not how much time a character spends on screen, but the amount of connection he/she makes with the viewers that count”. Also, Steve Price’s soundtrack fits the danger, gloominess, melancholy, isolation and the infinity of space. The visual effects were stunning and beautiful at the same time. Some of the key scenes where the "Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)"  was truly at its best were the shot of the Earth’s sunrise, the debris particles, the destruction of the ISS and the Explorer, and the pod’s breaking into tiny meteor showers. The film is definitely recommended to be viewed in 3D Blu-ray.
The only issue which I had with the film was that it felt short. With a run time of only 90 minutes, on my initial viewing I felt that they could have expanded more on Stone’s struggle where she could have faced more hurdles on her return journey. Also, I would have loved to see more of Clooney’s character and his random comforting talks. I was actually very glad when he returned but was surprised when it turned out to be a hallucination. However, these are just minor issues and can be clearly overlooked.  Alfonso Cuaron did an excellent job in creating a film which was spectacular and gave some of the facts of everyday life through having us experience a huge disastrous event and also which respected and gave homage to the previous movies of the “Sci-Fi” genre having the same themes like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13”, Duncan Jones’s “Moon” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien”.

My rating- 95%


  1. Nice post. Hoping for some more hardcore reviews in the future. All the best.

  2. Thanks mate, much appreciated. :)