SPOILERS! This post contains spoilers for Gravity (2013)!!
You have been warned!
I recently had a discussion with Sarah Quincy while we recorded The History of Female Cannibals in Cinema. We semi-debated “what is horror?” And while we didn’t come to a clear conclusion, I don’t think there is a clear conclusion to come to. One thing that Sarah said really resonated with me, which is that a horror film can be anything, as long as it contains horrifying subject matter. And on that basis I’ve decided to review Gravity (2013).
Gravity was written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Roma, Y Tú Mamá También). It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It’s categorized as a science fiction thriller and a drama. All of which I agree with. But it certainly invokes horror, among many other feelings.
Bullock’s character is in space for the first time, a scientist. Clooney’s character is a veteran with a witty personality. After the team’s shuttle is destroyed after a Russian mission to blow up their own satellite sends space debris into orbit.
Beyond the stunning visuals and intensely impactful sound design, this film is incredibly successful (in my opinion) at evoking emotion. Even if you have never been to space or have never been a NASA scientist, you can still relate to Bullock’s fear of death, bravery, sadness, isolation and inevitable her gratefulness at surviving. It feels honest, especially during the hallucinatory moments.
But let’s circle back to the senses. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Revenant, Birdman). Lubezki’s sharp focus and keen eye brings beauty into even the most horrifying moments in the film, which at its core is the point. Bullock’s character fights to survive, fights hard for another day, even when it seems simply impossible. There is beauty all around her visually, but also in the kindness and actions of others. Their sacrifices for her. And in her own will to go on. The opening scene is a single shot that lasts over 12 minutes. Which you may not realize because you are immediately sucked in by the music, the view and the playful personality of Clooney’s character.
The sound design and music are incredible and especially intense in a theater or in surround sound. The filmmakers play with sound in space, radio broadcasts, the score, and the sound that space debris makes as it orbits Earth.
Just shy of 4 minutes into the film, you can see the reflection of a boom pole and crew in one of the characters helmuts. This is a joke by director Cuarón, who wanted it to seem like the film was actually shot in space.
As you can imagine, the logistics of shooting this film were incredibly difficult. Especially because Cuarón prefers long shots. Which means that his actors needed to memorize the blocking, dialogue and movement for long sequences…which also needed to align with the rigs that they were wearing to appear as though they were moving without gravity. And you might recall that there is a lot of spinning, both of the camera and the actors. Which meant that custom rigs needed to be built in order to accomplish this.
From the outside, Gravity seems very simple in a way. A digestible plot. Minimal characters, who are mostly just floating around in space. But the making of this film was incredibly complicated.
Overall, I am a huge fan of this film. I recently posted a poll on Instagram to see what you all thought and the overwhelming majority agreed. (Only one person voted that they didn’t like it.)
If you haven’t seen it since 2013, it’s time for another watch.