Of the 6 million ways to die suffocation is among the most frightening. When the air we’ve taken for granted our entire lives betrays us, every breath now one less for the future, the slow advance of death, panicked breaths taking over, screaming for more air that isn’t coming – that’s terror. It’s this loss of the most dependable elements of life – air and friction – which makes Gravity so uniquely horrifying.
Gravity is also one of the single most beautiful films ever made. What Tree of Life is to blades of grass and baby feet, Gravity is to the enormity of space and the entire dwarfed Earth. Building off the in-the-moment intensity of Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuaron’s camera never stops moving. Objects spin endlessly, float out and rush into view with only the distant, unchanging stars as reference. From the unbroken 17-minute opening shot to Sandra Bullock rotating peacefully curled inside an airlock, her hair the only indication of weight, Gravity is the closest approximation most people will get to experiencing a space walk, with the extraordinary view from outside our atmosphere and the absence of the most familiar sounds of impact. The camera movement alone places Gravity with Avatar, Jurassic Park and 2001 as a benchmark of cinematic technology.
While the visuals will get the majority of attention, the movie’s use of sound and the lack of are just as astonishing. The constant chatter of the opening makes the later silence more terrifying and the transmission of any noise, however faint or foreign, a victory. The muted rumble of an electric screwdriver shaking the user’s arm call attention to the tiny vibrations we on Earth ignore. Although at times the audio becomes too quiet to hear and the ambient soundtrack substitutes as explosions, the silence in motion is a wonderful break from the wooooosh of most space movies.
Removal from other communication makes the dull dialogue more noticeable than it should be. Still, these stretches are too thin to pull the film down. It’s fitting that a film where every disaster could be averted by having something to push off of would have a plot as basic as taking a step, just enough to fill the one-inch gap between now and forever. Survival is enough character motivation and banter is meaningless without breath.
After 90 minutes of weightless drifting the air in your lungs and floor at your feet will feel wonderful. [subscribe2]