by Faba Calculo
Some years ago, I had the personal misfortune to decide to walk into a film that people had been raving about with no real information concerning it of my own, under the theory that “I just wanted to be surprised.” Well, I was, because the movie was Synecdoche, New York, and if nothing else in the universe can convince you that existence is meaningless, that movie just might do the trick. I went home thinking that if life ever got to be too painful, and I just needed one more push to get me to pull the trigger, jump off the building, or lay down in front of the train, I’d have to see if it were available on iTunes.
Well, having finally gotten over that trauma (and learned nothing from it) I decided to go, similarly uninformed, to see the (insofar as I know) first of the big fall movies. I’m happy to report that, this time, it was a winner. In fact, it was actually so good that my best advice is to stop reading now, and go and do likewise.
Assuming you’re still with me, Gravity, staring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is set in a mythic time, one in which there is a space shuttle program, an International Space Station, and a Chinese space station (here called the Tiangong). While attempting to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is blasted away from the shuttle by a debris cloud resulting from a satellite that the Russians have done a poor job of trying to destroy. This leaves it up to astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) to get her back using the jet (OK, rocket) pack he’d been testing immediately before the explosion.
However, upon returning to the space shuttle, they find it to be a complete loss with no survivors. Almost as bad, so many communication satellites have been knocked out that they can’t communicate with Huston. So, the 400-mile trek back to Earth must be made on their own. This, ultimately, will entail a rocket pack-assisted trip to the (already evacuated) ISS, which will, in turn, force a journey to the (similarly emptied) Tiangong. Further complicating matters is the fact that the original debris field is orbiting the Earth in the opposite direction, meaning it’ll be showing up again in just another 90 minutes.
At this point, undeniably, there have already been a few stretches of the imagination. For if the debris field was so dense that it returns with constant intensity every orbit, how was it so spread out as to destroy the space shuttle and the communication satellites as well as forcing the evacuation of the ISS and Tiangong? Do these things just naturally tailgate each other, same altitude, same orbit? And then there’s that happy coincidence of Kowalski having been testing the new rocket pack just as debris cloud shows up to wreck the shuttle. Had this been an Arthur C. Clarke novel, I’d have been disappointed.
But it’s not. It’s a Hollywood movie. And I’ve long come to the conclusion that there’s only thing filmgoers can reliably assume they’ll get from Hollywood science fiction films: great special effects. So, given how much more than mere state-of-the-art special effects this movie has to offer, it’s a rare gem. That’s not to indicate that the effects aren’t amazing, because they definitely are. I can honestly say that we Gen-X’ers and millennials can finally tell all those baby boomers who can’t stop talking about how amazing the weightless scenes in 2001 were that they don’t know what they are talking about.
And if you’ve ever told yourself that being in a zero-G fire, surrounded by a 100%-oxygen atmosphere, wouldn’t be that bad, well, see my entry on “baby boomers” above. Or if you’re just under the impression that it’s easy to grab hold of something in outer space that is moving at “almost” the same velocity as you…well, you get the picture. One final word on this topic: if ever you spring for seeing a movie in 3D IMAX, let it be now, because, unlike far too many films that try to make a poor effort good via such bells and whistles, this is already an excellent film that actually deserves them.
But, as I say, there is much more going on here. Despite being set in the infinite void of space, the overall feeling of the movie is one of being almost insufferably cramped. Indeed, if there are two groups of people who I expect will hate this film, it’s agoraphobes and claustrophobes. But I’d side more with the latter, as the ever-present danger of being left to suffocate in ones space suit portrayed here can be excruciating.
And its this claustrophobia that drives the best part of the film, where Stone and Kowalski are floating along and forced to open up to each other (admittedly more her to him than vice-versa) in ways that the quite Stone and the overbearing Kowalski never would have otherwise. Without spoiling the story, all I can say is that Stone is someone who is highly experienced with what some like to label “the problem of evil”.
It’s from this that the movie gets its theme. Themes can be hard for me, so even with Stone’s backstory and Kowalski’s admonitions to her throughout the film, it wasn’t until I walked out of the theater and saw the movie poster that I realized what it was. There, written beneath a close-up of Bullock trying desperately, amid explosions in the background, to maintain her one-hand grip on the space shuttle were three simple words.
Don’t Let Go.
Say what you might about Clooney and Bullock’s acting ability (which I’ve generally liked, even if some have not) or their politics, this is a movie that reaffirms life like few others.
And if things ever gets to be too painful, and I just need one more push to get me to pull the trigger, jump off the building, or lay down in front of the train, instead of checking to see if Synecdoche, New York is available on iTunes, I think I’ll look for Gravity instead. • (1389 views)