A Dual Film Review by Jim and Amy
We recently went to see Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It is the story of two astronauts whose shuttle is destroyed by some orbiting debris, leaving them stranded in space. How will they ever return safely to earth? It is a 90-minute, heart-pounding thrill-ride. The film is also garnering over 90% positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes. So we thought it would be worthwhile to do a tandem review of this one.
Amy: Ask any kid who has fallen off his bike and he can tell you gravity can be a very unpleasant experience. Well, okay, maybe he won’t be able to name the force that keeps us tethered to our home planet, but he certainly understands the pain it often causes. Unlike most reviewers, the experience that Jim and I had watching Gravity was much like that of the kid on his bike. Cuaron’s film is paradoxically heavy and weightless at the same time. I will give credit to the filmmaker for his breathtaking cinematography and special effects but in some respects it is like Titanic, another big—dare I say astronomical—budget film with a shallow story, very little character development, and poorly written dialogue. Gravity doesn’t just portray a vacuum (of space); it is a vacuum (of emotion and meaning). The director refuses to make a statement regarding the deeper realities of life and the film falls flat. Watching it, I felt like Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, drifting alone in space, calling out “Hello? Anyone?”
Jim: This is one of those films that is very strong in some technical categories while being very weak where it matters most—thematic content and character development. In this regard, Amy’s comparison to the film Titanic is apt. That film excelled in terms of set design, costumes, and CGI. (I recall thinking that the scene where the ship sank was so visually stunning it was worth the price of admission.) Similarly for Gravity, which is a true visual feast. The special effects are astonishing, and the film is also award-worthy in such categories as production design, soundtrack, and sound editing. Unfortunately, for all the beauty of the package and the film’s gripping tension, the story has no real theme. Some fledgling efforts are made to emotionally connect us to Ryan Stone—we learn that years earlier she had lost her young daughter in a tragic accident, that Stone never really learned to pray, and that one of her main reasons for becoming an astronaut was her longing for solitude. One needs more than this to connect to and really care for a character. Some will say, “yes, but this is an action-adventure film; its not about the characters!” Then why bother bringing in these facts about Ryan Stone, tantalizing us with the expectation that they will be relevant in the end? And speaking of the end [spoiler alert!], I was almost disappointed when she made it back to earth safely, providing the happy ending that we all knew was coming. It would have been a more daring, and I’d say artful, move to have her die in the final scene, after she had survived so much, if only as a declaration of the absurdity of the human struggle. As it was, the film was just non-committal from a worldview standpoint. I’d rather be slapped in the face with nihilism!
Amy: Since Jim has gone and ruined the ending, I will jump on that spoiler wagon. I too really disliked the ending. As far as I am concerned, it can go live on the same movie block as Inception. Make a statement already. The only doubts I had of Stone making it back were when it became so obvious that she was going to make it back and I couldn’t believe they would be so obvious.
Jim: Okay, Amy, I think I resent that comparison to Inception, which while non-commital at the end was still a strong film in most respects—certainly much stronger than Gravity. But I don’t want to start a debate with you about that film. The point here is that we both give Gravity a thumbs down, right?
Amy: Right, honey. Thumbs down.