Warning! This entire discussion contains spoilers for Gravity.



Scott Hardie | October 13, 2013
What a movie! This deserves to win not just the box office race but some Oscars as well, though I suspect that the technical awards will be its only hope. Sandra Bullock carries this movie quite ably; see the IMDb trivia page to see how hard she worked to pull this off, physically and emotionally. She's phenomenal, and I'm disappointed but not surprised to see AV Club picking on her, given how much less I agree with that website as time goes by. The real star is the visual effects of course, and the movie is ridiculously accomplished in that regard. This movie wouldn't have been possible even four years ago; that's how cutting-edge this is.

Among my tiny quibbles about the movie is the way it invokes one of my cinematic pet peeves, when a character dramatically sacrifices himself but doesn't need to. The fun but idiotic Mission to Mars with Tim Robbins featured such an unfair scene, and so too does this one, when George Clooney detaches himself to save Sandra Bullock even though physics would dictate that he has no reason to: He should no longer be drifting away at that point, relative to Bullock and the space station. The movie needs him to do this for dramatic reasons, so the science consultants looked the other way, but if I were in the writer-director's shoes I would have looked for a simple way to justify the scene. Perhaps the impact could have produced a tiny air leak in Clooney's suit that was pushing him away from Bullock?

What to make of the gender politics? On one hand, the movie puts a female scientist front and center to carry the movie, surviving by her wits and determination. On the other hand, it has a male colleague repeatedly rescue her and guide her to safety, owing to his greater experience in space and his general ballsiness compared to her wimpiness. I don't mind that Bullock's character gets emotional under the pressure, because hello what an experience to suffer, and I don't mind that Clooney's character gives her pep talks to calm her down, something that could have happened between two men or two women more or less as easily. But I do mind Clooney repeatedly playing the Seeing-Eye Man, a longstanding sexist tradition in Hollywood that subtly infantilizes women. And yet, even if he's the catalyst, the movie is ultimately about Bullock finding within herself the means to survive this ordeal, and her rebirth as a powerful agent of her own will, something that women don't get much of on the big screen, short of Ellen Ripley. Overall, I'd say that Gravity is a step forward for portrayals of women in movies, but it doesn't go far enough. What do you think?

As for that theme of rebirth, meh. The shot where Bullock floats in a fetal position in the airlock hits it squarely on the nose, but other shots like the tethering at the belly, the shot of her pounding the controls inside the tiny pod like kicking in the womb, and the eventual swimming emergence from the wet chamber that kept her alive, all accomplish it with more subtlety. Yeah, it's scientifically questionable to have her able to stand at the end after weeks in zero-G, but dramatically important to complete the theme. I can't help but wish the movie had more thematic depth; it almost feels too spare, too focused on delivering a non-stop thrill ride to bother thinking about much, like the JJ Abrams Star Trek pictures. But it's possible I'm just missing what's there. Is there more going on under the surface that I missed?

Evie Totty | November 6, 2013
What a thorough review!

All I can say is that I loved it. I saw it in IMAX 3D so the visuals were out of this world. I was also irritated about the drifting thing though.

I found myself holding my breath many times during the viewing so that alone makes me love the movie. I was happy it spent 3 weeks at #1 with the first weekend having 80% 3D receipts which is unheard of at this time and only like a 25% drop in receipts in week 2 - also unheard of.

Scott Hardie | November 8, 2013
Yes, I was holding my breath too, and I'm sure a lot of other viewers were. That scene where Sandra Bullock is out of oxygen and is down to the fumes in her suit, and she's trying to re-enter the airlock, and she stops to chat with George Clooney -- did that bother you as much as it did me? I realize it's about giving him some comfort before he drifts away to die after saving her life, but she's seconds away from death herself. Air first, chitchat later or never.

Evie Totty | November 8, 2013
Yes I was like 'YOU ARE OUT OF AIR WOMAN' but she was likely doing it and not knowing it. Like when you keep shaking hands with people with a hurt hand...

Scott Hardie | November 8, 2013
Yes. As with any horror movie (which Gravity essentially was), I have trouble continuing to root for the heroes when they make choices contrary to their very immediately need for survival. In this case, the scene wasn't essential to the plot, thankfully.

Samir Mehta | November 11, 2013
Scott, I disagree on the infantilizing observation - here's why: Sandra Bullock is the audience proxy. She can't be endlessly resourceful because we wouldn't identify with that. Honestly, it would be boring to watch a person who knows exactly how to physically and emotionally respond to this chaos. She has to be capable of panic and fear because that's how normal people would react.

And Clooney is needed for two reasons: 1. He allows her to have someone to play off of in terms of the fear and 2. He provides some useful exposition that helps explain what's going on. But then the movie kills him off.

The only good solution I can think of would be to make Clooney a woman as well. That might have worked, I guess, but I don't see Bullock as a weak heroine. She's just a normal heroine.

Scott Hardie | November 11, 2013
That's fair. But would the roles have been the same if the genders were fully reversed? I still have a hunch that the male hero would have pointed things out to the female sidekick, because that's just how movies get made. Also, the sidekick's dramatic death? Instead of the female sidekick sacrificing herself so the male hero could live, I think she would be in peril and he would risk his life to save her and he would fail. Bullock's character represents some progress, but there's still an entrenched sexism in Hollywood narratives that I think it's fair to say that Gravity perpetuates, even if there's a legitimate storytelling purpose for it as you say.

Scott Hardie | December 6, 2013
Midway through the film, Sandra Bullock boards the ISS, which is mostly good condition, and it's shredded by the debris cloud as she's trying to leave it. How was it not shredded the first time the debris cloud passed her section of Earth's orbit? And for that matter, late in the film she similarly finds the Chinese space station untouched; how did the debris cloud not shred that? It might be a matter of different altitudes or something, but perhaps the movie included an explanation that I missed. I'm just curious.

Evie Totty | December 17, 2013
Surmising: It did not get totally shredded the first time because it hadn't 'snowballed' enough. I'm thinking that in the second pass around it gathered more crap.

The Chinese one? Same stuff? different altitude but bigger snowball the second time?

Scott Hardie | December 18, 2013
Good point.

Scott Hardie | February 27, 2014
It's becoming a pet peeve of mine to hear this movie called science fiction, which I've been hearing a lot lately in regard to how the Academy doesn't like "sci-fi" movies. I don't recall Sandra Bullock using time-travel to escape from aliens, or George Clooney turning out to be an android from a parallel dimension. The movie took a minimal bit of artistic license regarding physics and the proximity of real objects in space, but otherwise it's intended to be utterly plausible, nothing remotely speculative or imaginative about it. Just because it takes place in space does not make it science fiction.

Evie Totty | March 2, 2014
Hah good point!

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