5 Reasons That Gravity Lives Up To And Even Exceeds Its Insane Hype

Gravity 5 Reasons That Gravity Lives Up To And Even Exceeds Its Insane Hype

Sometimes hype is the devil. In our current climate of endless speculation about casting, plot details, sequels, and awards consideration, a strong case can be made that the anticipation of upcoming movies today is far more celebrated and attracts far more cultural energy than the experience of watching the actual movies, let alone thinking about and discussing movies some time after their release. The future is much more in demand than the present or the past. Then again, it could also be argued that this is indeed nothing new, but a longstanding human impulse that is merely being capitalized on by those in the business of selling movies and other cultural products, like anything else.

Gravity is the latest movie that comes with anticipation that has been building for weeks, months, even years for many people. Director Alfonso Cuarón began developing the project back in 2010. This new film is by far his biggest and boldest work, and one that has been building momentum since Cuarón started offering advanced previews of rough cuts to various festival and conference crowds. Exciting word of mouth praise has promoted it as a technological marvel unlike anything audiences have seen before. That’s a lot to live up to. So the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to Gravity seems to be: can it possibly be as incredible as everyone says it is?

After having the good fortune of being able to see it at TIFF, I would like to let everyone know, with confidence, that yes, this movie is the real deal. And then some. Here are 5 reasons Gravity is almost certain to satisfy your astronomical expectations.

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1) The long takes are indeed incredible

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Cuarón’s trademark, thanks largely, maybe exclusively, to Children of Men, has become the long take. The one sequence in that movie featuring an intense attack on a car transporting the main characters was one of the key reasons it attracted so much attention for its unique visual method and immersive feel—with all the action unfolding in front of us with no cuts interrupting the image, there’s a realism to it that is especially affecting. It’s a cinematic technique he keeps returning to, and Gravity uses it more than anything he’s done in the past.

The result is even more intense and incredible than a person who hasn’t seen it is likely to imagine. One of the central conceits of the film is to replicate the feeling of being in space, to transport the audience so that we feel as though we’re floating alongside Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It’s true that there’s a certain element to the traditional long take where the action has to be captured in one perfect go-round, unlike this movie where computer animation allows more room for multiple takes. In fact, it may be more suitable to call this a single-shot sequence rather than single-take. The effect, though, remains. The interrupted fluidity of the camera and character action we watch is made simultaneously hyperrealistic and slightly surreal, which captures the feeling of outer space perfectly. It also makes the shock of its big action set pieces that much more intense. There’s no doubt that the unique cinematic experience of Gravity is largely due to this bold and profoundly effective stylistic choice by Cuarón.

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2) Sandra Bullock is excellent

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In general I tend to be a member of the Sandra Bullock Skeptic club, and so after raving to everyone I know about how amazing Gravity is, I wasn’t surprised that the most common reply was “Uh huh…but Sandra Bullock though?” I want to make abundantly clear to the “Sandra Bullock though” crowd that not only is she not a weak spot in an otherwise strong movie, but she ends up being one of its most surprisingly powerful aspects. Her role puts her in the position of audience surrogate for much of the film, and she performs spectacularly to this end. It sounds stupid to say, but just her breathing is deeply affecting, and causes us, out of sheer empathetic impulse, to raise our own heart and breathing rates.

She also finds a way to balance the expertise of her character’s scientific background with the nervousness of such a person being deployed into space for the first time—another reason we sympathize with her, as fellow space newbies. But she also effectively conveys the emotional baggage she carries in addition to her occupational hurdles. She does this so effectively, in fact, that we almost don’t need the eventual explanation and backstory for her character’s mental state. It’s a physically demanding part that requires her to multitask between enacting the impact on an astronaut’s body as well as her character’s distressed and eventual hopeless outlook on what’s happening around her. And she has to carry this narrative weight almost entirely on her shoulders. Clooney is Clooney, but Bullock gives the outstanding central performance this film needs to work as well as it does.

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3) The sound and music are employed perfectly

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As stated previously, one of the central conceits of the film is its attempt to depict the experience of being in outer space as faithfully and realistically as possible, and a major part of this endeavor was capturing the eeriness of the setting’s lack of sound. The images we’ve been shown in previous movies taking place in space, Star Wars being the most prominent example, largely consist of noisy explosions. What makes a lot of the action sequences in Gravity so terrifying is the utter lack of sound, which translates into stuff flying at you with no warning, emphasizing the isolation and lack of protection from the type of unforeseen events the movie chronicles.

The use of silence also enhances the relative simplicity of the movie’s narrative: it’s really just about a couple of people getting lost in space. Dialogue is almost superfluous. What does make a difference, though, is Gravity’s use of music, which, on its own, is marvelous, but used in conjunction with the action and, more importantly, the psychological state of the Sandra Bullock character, it becomes the principal emotional bridge between her and us. Simply put, the film finds the right moments when silence is most effective, and just the right times to blow our ears out with an amazing musical score to validate and intensify the feelings we’re feeling.

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4) The story is engaging enough to maintain our interest

Sandra Bullock in Gravity 5 Reasons That Gravity Lives Up To And Even Exceeds Its Insane Hype

The set pieces involving the debris and the long takes of the characters becoming detached and floating away are the primary reason that Gravity is a monumental achievement. Its sheer immersiveness is possibly more effective and affecting than that of any movie that has preceded it. But even this amount of action—and it’s not always exciting, fast-paced action, but often the mere thrill of witnessing the characters undertake tasks and respond to unexpected events—is impossible to sustain over a full 90-minute span of a feature film. So filler is necessary. To the filmmakers’ credit, instead of giving the audience breaks from the emotionally exhausting and visually overwhelming action segments with mundane and obvious story points and shallow character information (though some argue this is exactly what it does), I found its quieter moments to be subtle and effective, establishing motivation for why the characters respond in the way they do to their respective plights.

It’s not complicated whatsoever, but this is one of the movie’s strengths. We’re already overwhelmed with the complicated and fast-moving images and with dealing with a brand new way of depicting space, whether it’s the use of 3D or lack of sound or continuous takes. Sticking a heavily nuanced plot in there or too much of an expository character component would result in things getting lost in the shuffle. This comes back again to the Bullock performance—there’s enough in the performance that we are able to piece together the bits of information we get about her life and why she’s at the mental place she is in the story, and this makes it an engaging enough story for us to care about her survival. Not only to care, but to become deeply invested. Because as my final point suggests, it’s less about the way she survives, which the earth-dwelling audience would not relate to as immediately, and more about the will to survive, which is universally applicable.

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5) Its central metaphorical theme ultimately works

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The entire film can be taken on an metaphorical or allegorical level, and although the strength of the film, again, is in its effectiveness in drawing us into the visual experience of its story, the characters it presents, most notably the Bullock character Ryan, allow the movie to operate on another level. Her status as a scientist who is new to working on a space station and suddenly having to deal with more intense situations than most astronauts would ever have to face is definitely compelling.

Most compelling though is her personal, social backstory involving the loss of her daughter. It’s the psychological struggle she undertakes that frankly overshadows the physical challenges of her story. It uses space and debris as elements of a very human story, the idea that finding the will to overcome your challenges, the will to live at all, is often far more difficult than finding the right path to follow, and the right steps to take. The success in finding a source of hope to cling to is more of a triumph than wherever that hope happens to lead.

This movie is part 127 Hours, part Avatar, part 2001: A Space Odyssey, and many parts something new entirely. It’s an emotional experience that, for many, will translate into a mentally, even physically gruelling time at the movies. It’s a presentation of space we’ve never seen before. The way it’s able to sew all these elements together is remarkable, and impossible to completely capture in an advertising campaign or through previewing one scene out of context. As a whole, it has to be considered one of the most exciting and revolutionary films in years.

Gravity will likely be subjected to boring intellectual analyses that try to downplay its aesthetic value. But the main reason it works is that it’s an experience of pure cinema and it’s unlikely that anyone can really prepare themselves for it or anticipate it. Excessive hype can often lead people down a path towards inevitable disappointment, but when a movie gives viewers the type of experience Gravity does, your ordinary world of cinematic anticipation quickly fades away as you get lost in space.

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