3 Stars — Sobering
Gravity brings the spectacular beauty of an IMAX documentary together with the thought-stretching drama of great space films such as Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, what unfolds on the screen is truly a remarkable piece of movie-making.
If you have ever watched the space shuttle or the international space station in IMAX, then you will be amazed at how lifelike Cuarón has brought this to the screen. The images of Earth's beauty are spiritual in their depth. The fact that man has created a way to live and study in space is nothing short of a miracle.
Through the entire story we meet only two people: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission who joins veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), who is commanding his last flight before retiring.
While working remotely to repair the Hubble telescope, Mission Control informs them that a Russian satellite has reportedly blown up and has caused a debris field to travel in their direction. As the debris field picks up speed, it collides with other satellites and causes a cataclysmic loss of multiplying proportions that ultimately is taking out everything in its path, including potentially the space shuttle upon which Stone and Kowalsky are depending for life support.
While we won't spoil the story by telling all of the details, the focus of this emotionally charged drama centers on the survival and hopeful rescue of Dr. Stone. You travel with her through her fears and uncharted territory in the loneliness of space. It is hard not to be exhausted and have your pulse race during her harrowing experiences, yet the remarkable filming of the beauty and weightlessness of space is awe-inspiring.
There are other voices that Stone hears in Gravity, but their distant relationship to where she is adds to the realization that she is a long way from Earth. Some are others who are along on the mission but who are lost in the devastation of the collision with the debris fields. Others are from Mission Control or neighboring space stations, but the loss of satellite transmission leaves Dr. Stone (and the viewers) lost in space.
What happens in the end? Well, you will have to see the film. It certainly is plausible, but it will challenge your knowledge of our space program. If nothing else, it will bring into question what it takes physically and emotionally to be an astronaut.
Gravity also challenges us to question whether the risk of space is worth the cost we are willing to pay in both money and humanity. This has been a fundamental challenge since the beginning of the space race when President John F. Kennedy launched a drive to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Ever since, this form of exploration has captured our collective imagination and created a generation of heroes. It also has transformed our economy. The miniaturization of technology would never have occurred without the need to reduce its weight in order to propel it into space.
During the heady days of the race to the moon, we all took for granted that this was risky business and that some would die along the way in order for this to happen. In many ways, it was the same risks that we assume when we go to war. Most will live, but there will be harsh sacrifices along the way. Today, we want our world to be risk-free. If there is as much as a hiccup, we call off the mission till we can assure the public that "it is safe."
Whether it was Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, or the Pilgrims crossing the Atlantic in 1620, or our sending our sons or daughters off to college, life is rarely safe. Our illusion of safety tends to be mythical. What drives us, though, is our desire to explore the unknown. In this quest, fear is trumped by faith.
» The danger of stepping off the planet and into the unknown is powerful cinema. If you had the opportunity to do so in real life, would you?
» Similar to Cast Away where the majority of the film focused on one person lost on an island, this film has one person lost in space. Both had to face themselves and overcome their fears. How have you experienced this in your own life?
» The choice to be driven by faith rather than fear is a primary decision in life. Which one is winning in your own decisions?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.