The Fifth Estate


If anyone deserves to succeed Stanley Kubrick as cinema’s next virtuoso director, it has to be the brilliant and fearless Alfonso Cuarón. Reimagining the Harry Potter film franchise with his dark, character-driven perspective on Prisoner of Azkaban – a choice that ultimately set the tone for later films – as well as converting one of the more nuanced dystopian dramas (Children Of Men) with soaring technical prowess takes serious guts.


Sandra Bullock
George Clooney


Alfonso Cuarón


4th October, 2013


90 Minutes


For a director of his stature, the rarefied filmography betrays his assiduous diligence and patience with each project: he’s unafraid to inject fresh ideas and experiment with all creative aspects. In the six year span since his last directorial venture, perhaps the biggest evolution in cinema has been the integration of 3-D visual effects as a critical part of the story. Gravity then, is a first stab at a space science fiction thriller intended solely for 3-D viewing on a huge screen.


We’ve seen a lot of space operas over the years, but very few approach the physical realism of this movie. With a few exceptions for dramatic licence – of course, you’re free to be a pedantic nitpicker if you’re so inclined – Gravity stays faithful to most of the harsh realities of space, including the deafening silence and absence of a fixed horizontal frame of reference. It is dizzying and exhilarating at the same time, and possibly the closest you can get to experiencing low earth orbit in a theater.


Interestingly, our protagonists face a unique combination of physical and intellectual challenges along the way. Deciphering a Chinese instruction manual or using a fire extinguisher as an emergency thruster pack are the sort of things you expect to happen in a real-world space disaster, and that is precisely what make the premise so believable.


A project of this magnitude, intensity, and style requires some serious internal fortitude, and Cuarón is one redoubtable son of a gun. Astonishing cinematography and visual effects aside, it must have taken guts to float an intelligent space movie without aliens or high technology. For once, Hollywood gives up its penchant for big, flashy explosions and whooshing noises for the stark Newtonian realism in chain-reaction disintegrations. It’s the same disorientation you feel when first faced with the laws of classical mechanics: it goes against your natural intuition, but is fascinating in its own right.


Cuarón masterfully alternates the action set-pieces with quieter moments that get to the philosophical core of the movie: the unrelenting struggle for survival. “Life is impossible in space,” proclaims the prologue screen. The philosophy here though, is more personal and character-based than social, economic, or political. A lesser story might have delved into why the Russians shoot down one of their own spy satellites, triggering the chain of events that set up the plot, but Cuarón nurses a strong dislike for what he calls “expository cinema” that sucks gravitas out of the main characters and distracts from the present. In other words, forget about why and how we got here. This is now – focus on what we need to do to stay alive.


“What do you like best about being here?”, George Clooney’s inimitable Kowalski asks the newbie Ryan Stone – played with outstanding depth by veteran Sandra Bullock – to which she replies “The silence. You could almost get used to it.” True to form, Gravity turns out to be an unusually quiet action movie, so much so that you have to strain to hear some of the conversation over dodgy radio channels. Yet another reason there is no point watching this on anything less than a 3-D home entertainment system with full surround sound.


Because the usual rules don’t apply, it’s hard to ignore small objects like pens floating around, especially in quieter moments. Often this can be distracting, but Cuarón more than makes up for it by serving up a litany of beautiful scenes, from glorious sunrises to a particularly intimate one where Stone’s spherical tears float towards the camera. With extended sequences without a single camera cut, Cuarón fosters a sense of real-time vulnerability and involvement for the viewers that’s extremely difficult to achieve in any artistic medium.




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