TIFF 2013: Gravity (2013)
Visually striking, unfathomably straining, and performed to near perfection. In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but the Oscar buzz surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” travels infinitely and is completely deafening. It’s consistently destructive, awe-inspiring, and unbearably tense. The flick’s climactic nature makes for a non-stop thrill-ride that will leave you craving the solidarity and silence of the void, when or if you are able to survive. Undoubtedly, this will be the most physically and mentally draining 90 minutes you’ll ever spend in a cinema. If you’ve never felt the insignificance of your own life, you’ll surely feel microscopic against the staggering backdrop that is our universe. Cuaron’s visual effects and relentless action are tremendously enthralling, but are a mere bonus to “Gravity’s” true brilliance… Which is the inevitable, disconcerting truth that no matter how far we stretch from the bounds of Earth, we will never truly leave the atmosphere.
Engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission. Accompanying her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) who is on his final expedition. During a routine spacewalk to issue some repairs to the Hubble telescope, debris from a satellite collides with the space shuttle Explorer. The impact delivers catastrophic damage to the ship, kills the other astronauts on board the ship, and leaves Stone spinning alone in space. Now, with no means of communication to Earth, Kowalsky must retrieve Stone and the two must figure out a way to return to Earth.
Listen, I’m a sucker when it comes to specific sub-genres, and none more so than sci-fi driven by actual science, space, and drama. Granted, there isn’t exactly a name for this particular tangent, but we all know the films that fall into the category. They are astonishing feats of cinema that reach out and connect with our humanity, leave us in awe of the universe and marvelling at our technological advances. Films such as Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones’ “Moon,” and more recently Sebastian Cordero’s “Europa Report.” These films capture the very essence of science-fiction while never forgetting our benevolence, flaws, and irrelevance. The visuals are unprecedented and leave the audience winded. It’s nearly impossible to find a cinematic experience that rivals this strand’s immaculacy and for good reason. I can tell you with pure confidence that “Gravity” is the newest and possible best member of my favourite genre.
Now, you might think that my passion for this very precise sub-genre hampers my ability to distinguish the truly brilliant from the utterly lacking. When in actuality, it’s quite the contrary. If anything, my fascination has made me even more skeptical and critical of new entries. I respect the art too much to compromise it with childish crushes. So when I tell you that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is resplendent, heart-stopping, and impassioned…you better believe I am telling you the truth. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Which is why I can deem it the best film I saw at TIFF 2013 without hesitation. And the argument could be made that I attended a majority of the screenings for Oscar favourites at the festival, such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “August: Osage County,” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” So it’s not like I’m comparing it to mediocrity. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will not see a better film than “Gravity” released so far this year. As for November and December releases, only time will tell, but I can’t see it being trumped.
The film itself literally has no weaknesses. From the soundtrack, the story, its graphics and performances. “Gravity” is as completely and structurally sound as they come. Even more astonishing is the scientific, visual, and technological authenticity. And of course with astronaut Chris Hadfield on hand to verify the film’s successes at the screening, I rendered it pointless to argue. The story is not overly complex, but it is real and believable. Which is why I feel it is so effective and relatable. With “Gravity,” Cuaron definitely understands that less is more. Once you’ve settled in for the ride, there is no escaping. You might as well strap yourself into a spacesuit, buckle up, and prepare for the physically and mentally draining journey that is “Gravity.”
From the get go, two things hit you, the music and the imagery. And there’s this beautiful dissonance between the two that you have to experience to believe. The original score shifts, swiftly I might add from a sweet, atmospheric hum to a terrifying, exploding, tense onslaught that wreaks havoc on your nerves. It’s similar to an ascending, ear-piercing rumble that, at a point becomes impossible to withstand. It is undeniably one of the most definitive, creative soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Alongside the score in this intoxicating concoction is Cuaron’s stunning, panoramic imagery that’ll leave you breathless and in disbelief. All I can say is that it’s sure to resonate with you long after the closing credits. Above all however, is the genuine interpretation of the space just outside our planet. All the beauty that the universe has to offer present in “Gravity” is no substitute for the authenticity on display here.
As revolutionary, engaging, and stunning as Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller is, the fact of the matter is that “Gravity” would be totally lost without its two phenomenal stars. Leads George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are thoroughly outstanding and remind us all of their deep talent and why they are so revered in the first place. The truth is that it’s been a while since either have tastefully and fully wowed cinephiles, but no longer. Even more remarkable is what makes their performances so compelling and down-right impressive. It’s not merely the conventional dramatic element, although they do provide that abundantly. The duo’s physical maneuvers and delicate mannerisms in the vacuum is what really stupefies. It is immensely strenuous and difficult to make it look like your floating and working in space. Yet Clooney and Bullock pull it off with sheer immaculacy and make it look so easy. Their performances are just another facet in “Gravity’s” long line of sublime accomplishments.
As totally immersive of an experience that you’ll likely ever be apart of in a cinema. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is performed flawlessly, visually impeccable, and as a whole, matchless.
Gravity: 10 out of 10.