Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gravity (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Gravity" at first appears to be an otherworldly tango between Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The dance quickly becomes one of survival.

Clooney is astronaut Kowalski with a sharp wit and Bullock is the isolated and tomboyish Ryan. They are sent to initialize and repair a space station. Both of them hotfoot around the bars and levers, Ryan seems a participant in a pratfall, while Kowalski spins about in a jet pack La-Z-Boy chair. He jokes that their fellow spaceman is doing the macarena.

From the very first, you are stuck by the sheer depth and beauty of this film. This is what it might feel like to be in space. Earth is literally suspended in the sable ink, an endless void. While the textured landscape of earth is seen as expressionist swaths of jade green, topaz brown and tangerine paint. Aloft in his chair-like vehicle, Kowalski is far off in the distance, little more than a collection of bone white dust. Closer in view, he takes on the shape of an origami paper box. Then, abruptly upon us, he transforms into the form of an aluminum giant with huge vice-grips for hands.

"Gravity" is one film like "2001" which portrays space and its unknowables as a realm of loneliness and silence.

The sound of country music from Kowalski's headset and Ryan's busy fretting are the only human utterances.

Suddenly within the coziness of duty and work, danger is sounded without warning: some troubling satellite debris is in orbit and on its way.

Kowalski and Ryan batten down the hatches and abort the mission quickly enough it would seem, but they don't count on the sheer onslaught of irregular metal shards that tear at the NASA craft.

Ryan becomes unhinged from the station and spins like a top in black abysmal reaches. She hyperventilates. The situation of the film parallels "All Is Lost". These are characters adrift and fighting for their very survival through happenstance and luck, both good and bad.

There is some humor to be found in Clooney and Bullock lashed together in space, swirling and bouncing in a hellish purgatorial Pasodoble . "Stop staring at me!" Clooney advises, as if to make an inside joke about his Hollywood looks. The two could be lovers on an interplanetary Titanic.

The scene is comical and wrenching  at once.

"Gravity" is no gimmick novelty. The 3D is holistic and all encompassing. It enhances the circumstance of Ryan as she attempts to get to safety and ultimately to earth, rather than being a round of visual rings and tricks. The hull of Ryan's space station is shown as nothing less than a white and corded womb. Wires pulse with life like umbilical cords. Once enclosed, our Superwoman Ryan sheds her skin and becomes reborn. She undulates and stretches her body taking sensual breaths of oxygen. This scene echoes Sigourney Weaver undressing on board in "Alien". It may be eye-candy but this too, is meaningful.

In addition to some teasing, there is also a bit of existentialism. Ryan is left in a metal cork, but the sight of Clooney's vodka-sipping Kowalski spurs her on in a device that contains something of Kubrick and Camus.

Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" is a visceral and emotional experience that will take you to far limitless visions, not the least of which shows Sandra Bullock as a Saul Bass silhouette, a dark black purple cutout that falls into further darkness. It is a fitting cousin to "2001: A Space Odyssey" where help in rescue is a rare star.

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