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October 01, 2013

'Gravity' Showcases Harsh Beauty of Space

by Penelope Poulou

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is a psychological drama with stunning visuals.

After a space mission goes awry, scientist Ryan Stone drifts into the cold black void, her chances of returning to earth are bleak. A simple story of loss and survival, Gravity unravels hundreds of miles above the earth while the film’s Hubble-like imagery reveals both the beauty and the harshness of deep space.

In the film, the astronauts are warned of debris from a destroyed Russian satellite. Senior astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, warns mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone of the danger. But Ryan, played by Sandra Bullock, is on her first mission and doesn't see the danger until it is too late.Kowalski attempts to retrieve the drifting astronaut.  

Director Alfonso Cuaron creates a visceral 3D experience of a space mission disaster, where the romantic quiet void turns terrifying and astronauts literally spin out of control. Cuaron wanted to make the intricately technical images as accurate as possible.

"With Emmanuel Lubezki, chief cinematographer, the attempt was to do something that look like an IMAX documentary," Cuaron said. "Also we wanted to do something that honors the laws of physics in space in terms of the microgravity and the no resistance."

The actors also had to deal with the laws of physics, especially Bullock, who almost single handedly carries the movie.

"Everything you see, we physically shot, even if it was in tiny pieces to string together," Bullock said.

She said evoking the emotions of a lost woman inside a space suit was even more difficult.

"You have to have that inner emotional life going at all times," she said. "If it is not alive and it is not there, you can see it on the eyes."  

The film feels claustrophobic and Ryan's fight for survival futile. Having lost her young daughter, Ryan feels she has nothing to live for. Fighting with her inner demons in the middle of nowhere lends existential drama to the film.

"It's someone who has lost their connection to living a life and with the debris you get the representation of adversity and that's gonna happen in everyone's life," Bullock said. "We're all going to be knocked down. We're supposed to get back up, but why?"

NASA astronauts Catherine Coleman and Mike Massimino have logged many hours of spacewalks. They say the film accurately depicts technical and emotional challenges in space, especially the debris orbiting the earth that could endanger missions.

"It's a harder and harder problem with more and more pieces of debris," Coleman said.  

Gravity is already receiving Oscar buzz, particularly for its visual effects and visceral music. Cuaron could not be happier and he's already looking ahead to his next project.

"Whichever film in which characters walk," he said.