One day I’m going to stop making the pre-review spoilage disclaimer, but unfortunately I don’t have enough readers yet. Whatever. You know the drill: don’t read the review if you haven’t seen the movie. And if you haven’t seen this movie, please. Go watch it.
I’ve been waiting for the chance to review this movie ever since I saw it in theaters (for the first time), and I promised myself I wouldn’t do it until I’d bought the Blu-Ray and watched it again. Because when I saw it for the first time, a little voice whispered a very powerful something in my ear and it’s a thought I haven’t been able to shake off since, but wanted to verify before I declared it true. After seeing this movie four times now, I think I may be starting to listen to the voice more.
The voice essentially told me this: Gravity may just be one of my favorite movies of all time. When you’re a film lover like me, that’s not an easy declaration to make, hence the reason for my delayed review. It’s certainly the only film I’ve ever seen twice in theaters, so at the very least I know I loved it enough to spend two (expensive) movie tickets on it. It took my breath away the first time I saw it, it took my breath away the second, and the same happened the third and fourth time I watched it, despite the fact it was on a little screen and not on a big movie theater screen (which is really the best way to watch it). And, after mulling it over, reading the Wikipedia article for the umpteenth time, and replaying it over and over again in my head, I think I can safely say that Gravity is one of my favorite movies. Of all time.
Keep in mind that over the past few years I’ve had very, very few chances to see a lot of movies in theaters, and generally don’t watch movies until two years or so after they come out. This year I watched more movies of 2013 in 2013-2014 than I’ve ever watched before in my life, and I still didn’t see that much. I saw Gravity, Her, Twelve Years A Slave, Catching Fire, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Frozen. (Oh, and I also saw Epic, but I can barely remember what that one’s about.)
Of all the ones I saw, Gravity was by far my favorite (although Frozen came close). And every single one of these movies had something good to offer. Gravity had the most realistic special effects I’ve ever seen (among other things which I will discuss soon); Her, as I said in my previous movie review, had the most original idea of all the movies of the year; Twelve Years A Slave was extremely well done and effective; Catching Fire was such a good adaptation that it was better than its book; and Frozen was just a pure joy to watch. Star Trek: Into Darkness sucked, but I’ve already reviewed that. I’ve heard many people say that 2013 was a rough year for movies in general, but I personally don’t see it. It was a rough year for music, as I’ve already explained, but these movies are solid. They’re good.
So now, onto Gravity. Oh, where to begin?
First of all, this movie is much more than just a space disaster movie. The writers were very clever in that they gave this film an – gasp! – actual story, and not just Sandra Bullock jumping from one exploding spacecraft to the next. This movie has an underbelly that is, in actuality, the heart and soul of the whole flick – it’s a character study.
If you’ve read any of my X-Files reviews, you know that I’m an absolute sucker for character studies and can sometimes let my judgment of them overwhelm my judgment of the work as a whole, even in light of other things, like plot, aesthetic elements, and execution. I feel somewhat justified in my love of character studies, though, because for one thing they’re the most relatable and impactful, and for another, there’s a lot you can do with them. So many movies, especially the ones that are well known for their fan service or special effects, make the horrible mistake of trading good character study for action sequences (Into Darkness, I’m looking at you). You can make a suspense, adventure, or action movie into a good character study, too. Gravity did.
The best thing about Gravity’s character study is that it’s present and effective but doesn’t overwhelm the film. We see very clearly from the beginning that there’s something wrong with Dr. Ryan Stone – she’s a tad snippy and very distant. Unlike her colleague Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut, Dr. Ryan Stone is extremely uncomfortable in her astronaut suit and just wants to install her technology and get back to earth. She appears not to take any notice of the awesomeness of her surroundings, as is evident when Kowalski tells her “One thing’s for sure…can’t beat the view” and the movie goes into a beautiful sequence displaying earth from space.
Later, we find out why Ryan is the way she is – she had a very young daughter that died. Not from anything like a disease or a murder, but from a careless accident – “Slipped, hit her head, and that was it. Stupidest thing.” And now we know Ryan’s defining characteristic – she’s a mother. She’s a mother suffering the loss of her child. As Kowalski says, it doesn’t get much harder than that.
It would be stupid of me to go scene-by-scene through the movie, and honestly no review I could ever write would possibly capture the awesome experience that is watching this film. But I do want to point out that there’s a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) symbolism here that flows very well with the movie’s story. Ryan turns off the dead pod because she’s given up; she lost her daughter, so what does she have to live for? What’s the point of returning to earth, returning to a sad, miserable existence? It takes that modicum of courage within herself, which manifests itself in the form of Matt Kowalski, to find the will to keep going.
I have heard arguments concerning the hallucination scene against the so-called “feminist fans” of the movie. You see, this movie was rightly and justly praised for its use of a female character that has no romantic involvements with anyone of any kind, a female character that, for once, gets through her own story without becoming a love puppet. These critics argue that, despite these facts, Ryan’s hallucination that saves her life takes the form of a man and therefore shows that, in her crazed mental state, the vision of a man was all that could save her.
To this, I refer you to the sentiments expressed by my peeps Mulder and Scully in this link.
Talk about overthinking it. Kowalski was the veteran astronaut on the mission. He knew more about how to survive in space than anyone, and his expertise kept Ryan alive. It makes sense that her subconscious would cook up a form of Kowalski to tell her what to do. There’s no more to it than that.
The whole movie is filled with moments of silence, and the film does an excellent job of utilizing silence as a means of saying so much more than words could. The expressions of the astronauts when staring at Earth, the focuses on the personal objects of the absent astronauts floating around, the lack of sound in space, create some absolutely beautiful and breathtaking scenes.
And, how amazing is Sandra Bullock in this movie? Sandra Bullock has had the extreme misfortune of mostly starring in pretty bad movies, which is a shame because she’s really quite a talented actress, as her performances in both The Blind Side and Gravity demonstrate. There’s a lot of subtlety in her performance as Ryan Stone, and subtlety is what I like. I’m so glad they cast her; maybe now she’ll start starring in more good movies.
I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. I just love it. A+. Two thumbs up. 10/10. Best movie of the year.