GRAVITY (2013, Alfonso Cuaron)
A LITTLE PRINCESS, perhaps the greatest children’s film I’ve ever seen, is a story about storytelling. Cuaron directs it with the wide-eyed wonder of an innocent young girl, placing his protagonist in the role of filmmaker, in a way — existing in a miserable situation and creating beauty out of creativity, narrative, and humanist passion. GRAVITY, despite all the ways in which it couldn’t be further from the world of that delicate period piece, is almost a sequel.
The miserable situation this time is the cold, empty, cruelly indifferent expanse of space — and in it, Cuaron’s endlessly twirling camera finds beauty in its awesome dispassion, then allows its human inhabitants to rely on the power of storyelling. It begins with Clooney’s character telling anecdotes about Mardi Gras and Tijuana, and often has Bullock’s character claiming that if she somehow makes it back to earth, she’ll “have one hell of a story to tell.” Telling stories spans cultures, generations, and epochs — whether it’s the Russians, the Chinese, or the Americans (all of whom in some way aid or conspire against Bullock and Clooney in their adventure), we tell stories. To each other, and to anyone who will listen. It’s part of why we live and have communities, it’s the foundation of almost every form of art, and it’s what makes us immortal; our stories continue long after we’re dead, and they’re something we can pass on to our children.
In most ways, GRAVITY is a gorgeous ode to storytelling — not just for what its people tell each other, but for how Cuaron tells this story to us. Of course it’s a technical masterpiece; you’ve never seen anything like this on screen, and it’s so thrilling to see how special effects are entirely employed to further the story and convey the narrative rather than provide enough loud noises and flashing lights and explosions to sedate and cajole the masses. The problems I do have with the film aren’t enough to derail the story, but they do make some dents. It’s the dialogue that rings false or cliche at times, or the overreaching attempts at heartstring-tugging. But those faults are easy to ignore when you take into account the whole of this accomplishment: it’s ridiculously suspenseful, shot with TREE OF LIFE brilliance by The Lord Our God Lubezki, funny when it needs to be, and ultimately a visual marvel. It lacks the challenging profundity of Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and the verdant warmth of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, but like the darkly gripping CHILDREN OF MEN, it’s the kind of skilled, impressive filmmaking that can only come from one of the best in the business.