Gravity: Thrillingly adrift, but not rootless thanks to the sounds of silence

A film with two actors which is only an hour and half long. In some respects Gravity couldn’t be more counter-cultural for the big budget star-vehicles we’ve got so accustomed to seeing. Lest this put you off, then you can rest assured that the two actor s are two major stars (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock); it’s a film set in space with jaw-dropping visuals; and it positively flies by quicker than an episode of CSI.

It may be a film of big vision, but the focus is small. We’re focussed throughout the film on two astronauts on a space-walk to carry out some repairs; things go wrong and of them becomes separated from the ship. What we see is the attempt to save themselves, cut off as they are from help on the earth.

On one level Gravity is a simple disaster movie with a small cast; in true disaster movie fashion, everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the two drifters. Several things elevate this film, though. The performances from Clooney and Bullock are fine in their roles, but it’s behind the camera that this film makes things work for the viewer. Alfonso Cuarón is a director who knows his way around lean but effective entertainment; he was behind the best of the Harry Potter films (Prisoner of Askabanas well as the brilliant action film with ideas Children Of Men. He brings all that focussed intelligence to bear on a movie in Gravity that’s almost unbearably tense and having some to say at the same time. This is a film that tells a simple story very well as asking us to mull on a few things:  on what it means to be alone or in company, the nature of sacrifice and when to cling on to life or when to let go of it, the way the deep things of the past shape us in moments of extreme crisis.

All of these would be vague notions if it weren’t for the performances, a well-thought through script and some dazzling technical work. The visuals are dazzlingly brilliant, crystal sharp and vertigo inducing. The real achievement, though, is in the sound. The challenge presented is what you do make the film something more than a silent film, but still remain convincing when we well know that in space sound doesn’t carry. I don’t understand these things, but the sound – the music, the voices of fellow astronauts, ground control and so on – somehow manages to express a strange combination of being alone whilst in communication. I don’t know what’s been done to the sound to make this happen, but whatever it is, it works abundantly. Without it the film would be good but not excellent, tense but not nerve-shredding, memorable but not significant. The sound leads us to be more immersed and involved with the story of two people – and only two people  – than we would otherwise become. So immersed that we’re satisfied with the glimpses we get of the two characters’ lives one earth, enough to grasp how their actions in a crisis are shaped by the rest of their lives but no so much to ever take us out of the moment of the story. That’s a rare balance to strike, between story and theme, which Cuarón here manages with aplomb in similar ways to his other films. Story and theme serve each other without driving each other out.

Maybe I’m just at a moment in life where this was bound to resonate; living through a crisis the sort of which I never dreamed has made me think about why we act the way we do when the pressure is on in whole new ways; I’ve thought again about the nature of relationships and isolation; I’ve thought again about life and death and the relationship between the two. Gravity informed that conversation of mine more deeply than I expected. It’s a brilliant film, one you’ll enjoy and think about to an extent far beyond the 90 or so minutes running time. You should see it.

I rated this film 9/10 on and 4/5 on