When thinking about the great Science Fiction films made throughout the course of popular cinema’s history, arguably such classics as George Melie’s silent A Trip to the Moon (1902), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968), Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), George Millers’ The Road Warrior (1981), James Cameron’s Terminator (1984) and The Wochowski’s The Matrix (1999), all redefined genre norms, challenged and pushed forward technological limitations and importantly understood that true Science Fiction film is rooted in an anxiety of who were are, the construction of our lived experiences, the impact of evolving technology innovation and how the quest for political power always hinges on the fragile borders of peace and war. It is with these noted films and others like them, that Science Fiction cinema was always about the “other” – external realities that impact daily lives and designed within a framework that provoked new thinking and understanding. With this use of genre to construct meaning, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) is not only a contemporary masterpiece of technological innovation but importantly breaks the barriers of Science Fiction – it does not feature the unattainable, cyborgs or alien creatures. It is not Science Fiction at all – but rather a spiritual and emotional drama masked by the elements of the genre’s grandeur.
Alfonso Cuarón’s ability to disguise his story of a woman stripped of her ability to be both maternal and living, within the visual frame of the science fiction milieu is a marvel of economic narrative. Within a running time of 90 minutes, Cuarón brings to life a story that is both harrowing and inspiring – a character study of a childless mother who’s belief is God limits her ability to live. In extension to his narrative that transforms into a visual monologue of sorts about Sandra Bullock’s character of Dr. Ryan Stone emotional implosion (visualized through the chaos of space debris), his use of 3D along with continuous composition is unlike anything in recent memory. Where contemporary 3D films such as Avatar (2009) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) work to create touchable vistas and environments, Cuarón, without the hyper stylized manipulation of picture editing, provides his audience with the point of view of Dr. Stone. The viewer is in her suit and feels the thrust of her haunted and shallow breathing. The film makes you see, listen and feel in a way that can only truly be appreciated on the biggest of screens. Such a small and personal story, yet so big and expansive in emotional and creative scope – narrative and picture frame is not wasted.
So, why does Gravity matter? Beyond the prior noted ideas, Gravity, at a time when Cable television (AMC, HBO) and streaming services (Netflix) are producing mature, creative, thought provoking and daring programming, reminds us that cinema is still the most compelling of shared experiences. Just like when television was first born and Hollywood responded with Vista-Vision and Widescreen, Cuarón reinforces film’s ability to bring to life the grandest of images and that Hollywood itself can indeed produce exhilarating narratives while serving the most mainstream of audiences.
All I can say is: “Thank you.”