I was IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the Northeast Region in 2005. I came in 3rd in the country. I say this so that when I say this next part you can appreciate how serious I am about the medium of film; “Gravity” is simply one of the best films that I have ever seen. I know that some will disagree with this opinion and I don’t know what I would say to support my opinion other than to say what the film was to see.
I went to see the film at my favorite theater, Clifton Park’s RPX. I like it because it is an amazing screen but also because the theater seems just as nice as others but somewhat quieter. Especially the ride home. It’s a roughly 20 minute drive through the upstate back roads that connect the cities with the suburbs that I take late at night. Tonight on that ride I found that I could not stop thinking about the film. How breathtaking it was and how connected I felt with the journey. I realized that this was a feeling that I had only felt a few select times before. That feeling that you’ve been somehow changed after watching a particular film. A feeling that this film will stay with you for as long as you live. I felt in in 1994 after having left “Pulp Fiction”, twice in 1999 after seeing both “La vita è bella” and “Saving Private Ryan” and lastly in 2000 after seeing “Memento.”
I will not tell you anything beyond what you already know from the trailers. “Gravity” is simply a film about a series of catastrophic disasters in Space which put the lives of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in great mortal peril whilst in Space. There is really nothing more to say than that. Yet at the same time saying only that doesn’t begin to aptly describe all that occurs within the confines of this script and this remarkable film.
I don’t know where to begin to quantify the genius of this film.
Should I start with the fact that this film features literally two actors for it’s entire duration? Even “Castaway” featured dozens of actors during it’s first and third acts. It’s one thing to ask a star to “carry a film” but it’s another when they literally share the screen with a single partner. It is a victory to all of those involved that supported this film from concept to completion that such a film was successfully executed.
Maybe I should discuss how the film will be recalled for many years and studied thoroughly as a landmark in filmmaker achievement. Alfonso Caurón’s revolutionary style of filmaking has been evident for years. Think about the Juillanne Moore/Clive Owen chase sequence of his 2006 film “Children of Men.” If you’ve seen it, or any of his long shot work, try to imagine a sequence like that lasting the entirety of a film yet somehow never feels forced or over done. Instead it feels visceral and real. So real in fact that it wasn’t until I was already home discussing how I felt about the film to my wife that it occurred to me that the entire film, from first to last frame, was presented in 100% real time. The level of achievement that this represents and the mastery it takes to pull something so magnificently complex that it is difficult to adequately comprehend.
Perhaps I could speak about how an audience will may never truly appreciate how remarkable the special effects achievements were simply because the audience found themselves too immersed in both story and environment to even notice. The use of the large format medium and 3-d advancements were so wildly successful in that they simply disappeared. Within moments the feeling switched imperceptibly from that of a film viewing to that of a space nightmare. Not once did I stop to remark to myself about how well done the effects were. They were that good. When the man responsible for the top 2 grossing feature films of all time say that the film is “the greatest space film of all time” or that it’s “the film I’ve waited to see for a long time” I can’t help but to agree. I loved seeing “Avatar” in the theater. I said at the time that it was the best “theater experience” of my life. I also said that it was too bad that the heart of the film was a story I had seen a dozen times. I said that I couldn’t wait until someone would manage to use the medium to tell a story that worthy enough to live up to the experience. It’d hadn’t happened yet. Not in the 4 years since “Avatar” was released. That changed for me tonight.
Lastly I could discuss how it will be impossible not to believe that this film wouldn’t have been the same, wouldn’t have suffered in someway had the two lead actors featured in this film been somehow cast differently. Sometimes when an actor takes a roll it fits in such a way that looking back and imagining anyone different in that roll, no matter how talented they were, would somehow seem less. Thinking about Harrison Ford as “Red” in “The Shawshank Redemption” seems not quite right somehow. In the same way thinking about Robert Downey Jr., no matter how amazing he is, in George Clooney’s roll, seems off. That is what happens when an actor takes a roll and completely and utterly makes it his or hers. Having watched it now, I can’t imagine any actress pulling this feat off in the same way or at the same level as Sandra Bullock did. And quite frankly, I don’t think I’d have wanted to see anyone try. While she may have already won her Oscar, I can’t imagine this film not being the seminal role of her career as an actor. She turned in a piece of work that someone of her esteem can hang her hat upon and say “this is what I contributed to my craft.” If “Avatar” were considered the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar in 1999 simply for it’s achievement and groundbreakning nature, it would seem impossible that “Gravity” not receive that same acclaim. Likewise I think that both leads in this film deserve consideration based upon the vast amount of work and dedication poured into these performances.
I can’t speak for anyone else as to their thoughts upon her performance, the achievement it represents, the level of craft and direction, or the film itself. What I can, for myself, safely say is this: