To talk about Gravity is to talk about the visuals. Yet the ways in which Gravity represents cinemas most advanced and intelligent use of 3-D is to talk about more than how the movie looks. As conceived by director Alfonso Cuaron, the visuals dont exist in isolation. They are inseparable from the movies emotion and meaning.
Gravity induces a double effect. We watch and are continually struck by the movies beauty and visual grace, while at the same time we pretty much believe what were seeing. Indeed, its actually possible to watch Gravity without it realizing that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock arent really in space.
In a long opening shot, you see a man-made contraption hanging in the blackness. There is a white dot next to it, while, in voiceover, you hear Clooney, bantering with mission control. The combination is stark a vast nothingness contrasted with everything Clooneys voice has come to mean in terms of humor, sanity and equanimity.
That contrast of the human soul versus the void is with us every second in Gravity.
In other films, outer space has seemed romantic, but Gravity makes you feel what an awesome, terrible thing it is. There is no sound in space, because there is nothing to carry sound.
At one point, Bullock is sent spinning into the void, and she keeps on spinning, because theres nothing to stop her, nothing to kick against. That everything that has ever lived should hang suspended in the midst of such emptiness is a realization so daunting and profound that it can turn an atheist into a religious person and a religious person into an atheist. Such spiritually de-stabilizing realities form the undercurrent of Gravity.
In terms of story, its a disaster film. Lieutenant Kowalski (Clooney) is floating around, telling stories and trying to break the space-walk record, while Mission Specialist Stone (Bullock) is running experiments.
Word comes that a shower of debris is heading their way, and from there Gravity piles on a series of calamities. Things happen in slow motion. There are no other people there to witness it no anything.
If ever a movie demanded the casting of movie stars, its Gravity, because the audience requires vivid examples of humanity and as the lead actors are covered up in space suits we need to feel we know these people. To compensate for no physical expressions, Clooney amps up his personality and puts everything into his voice, and to marvelous effect.
As for Bullock, its a role that requires displays of warmth, relief, grief, regret and stark, shrieking terror, and she is up for every moment of it. She plays a woman trying to make her way back to Planet Earth, not just literally, but within her spirit, and she brings to it her familiar and eccentric humanity and a raw and almost painful vulnerability.
See Gravity in theaters, because on television something will be lost. Cuaron has made a rare film whose mood, soul and profundity are bound up with its images. To see then diminished would be to see a lesser film, perhaps even a pointless one.