Lost in Space

Main Cast: Sandra Bullock

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Are you one of those people who dreamed of being an astronaut as a kid?  I’m not.  It all seems terribly scary and claustrophobic and…airless.  If that didn’t freak me out before, it certainly does now, thanks to Gravity, the Oscar nominated odyssey in a vacuum from director Alfonso Cuaron (who brought home the statuette for best director though the movie itself did not win).

Gravity has Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) floating around in space completing some sort of feat of engineering.  Ryan is a newbie to space – she’s a specialist trained for this mission.  Matt is a veteran, about to retire and enjoying his final space walk with a newfangled jetpack sort of thing as he watches over Ryan as she works.  She is strapped onto the equipment they’re using, thisclose to freaking out being outside the shuttle and he’s telling annoying stories and put-putting around as comfortable as can be as they chatter with the folks on the ground.

Yeah, you know it isn’t going to go well, or we wouldn’t have much of a movie.  A sudden emergency destroys the shuttle and leaves Matt and Ryan untethered in the wreckage, safely in their suits but not really safe at all.  The entire movie explores exactly how they’re going to get out of this intensely dangerous, ridiculously frightening situation.  They’re lost in space.

Gravity took home a lot of Oscar gold in 2014.  I was surprised – to me it seemed like an action movie that got thrown in the mix because they can nominate 10 movies now instead of only 5.  I could not have been more wrong.  This is a beautifully made film, technically remarkable and filled with almost unbearable tension.

At its heart, Gravity is the story of Ryan.  She suffered a loss that has left her just as free floating metaphorically as she ends up being literally.  She needs to get a grip on herself, not just to remain calm, but to decide whether she has anything left to live for.  As obstacle after obstacle block her return to safety she needs to figure out if she’s strong enough to keep fighting for a life she’s not really been living.  This kernel doesn’t end up getting quite as fully explored as it needs to be for the film to overcome its technical prowess and become an actor’s vehicle as well.  But Bullock is terrific as Ryan, vulnerable and tough and as an actress, willing to go through the intense and grueling experience of making this film.  Clooney’s part is much smaller, but he plays his usual calm, affable self, which just happens to fit the role of Matt Kowalski perfectly.

But the moviemaking – it’s fantastic.  From the dialogue establishing rapport between Ryan and Matt, to the meticulous attention to technical detail, to the amazing special effects, this is a film that was put together with a loving, steady and extremely accomplished hand.  I can honestly say that I do not remember ever watching a film that built and maintained such a high level of tension from beginning to end without relying on jump scares or cheap gimmickry.  I was exhausted when it was over and I saw it on my 37 inch TV – I can’t imagine how intense it must have been in the theater.  Cuaron manages to make you feel Ryan’s stress and mounting despair, when she gasps for air after nearly running out, we gasp with her.

Overall, Gravity is a far weightier (pun absolutely intended) experience than I expected.  I was blown away by the technical aspects of the filmmaking, but also impressed by the quiet desperation of Bullock’s character and her ability to make us feel her frustration and panic.  Though I’m sure it was more impressive on the big screen, it’s more than worth seeing on DVD.  4 ½ stars out of 5 for Gravity and an enthusiastic recommendation.  I also want to note that for those of you avoiding it because of reports of motion sickness in theater audiences; I don’t think you have to worry.  My husband is extremely prone to motion sickness and he had no difficulties watching the film on DVD.

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