“Gravity” (2013) is a Remarkable Experience



Scientifically disinclined, one of my dreams growing up was not becoming an astronaut.  And because I never wanted to be in space, I never wondered what it would be like to be in space.  But now, thanks to “Gravity”, I’ve been able to skip  past the stage of imagination and actually experience space without ever having to do the hard work to get there.

And what a revelation the experience has been.

The thing about being in space is that while I conceptually knew from my high school physics class what it meant, I really don’t know what it was like–until “Gravity.”

That there’s no gravity in space is pretty fundamental, for example, and I certainly understood that if I’m blown out into space, I have no hope of stopping myself without some countervailing force.  But through “Gravity,” I now know that if I’ve been blasted away, I’m also likely turning in circles in a dizzying and nauseating experience.  

Zero gravity environment also means that a simple act of grabbing onto a person while being in motion is like jumping on to a moving train.  On the other hand, it also means that if I’ve become motionless, I need some energy, say a propulsion generated by pulling on the fire extinguisher, to get me back moving.  It also poses challenges for a task as simple as unscrewing a bolt because I can’t just “put down” a drill, which will simply drift away.

Or take the concept of orbit.  I’d always known that NASA has launched a lot of satellites into space, for reasons benign (weather) or less benign (espionage), to orbit the earth.  Through “Gravity,” I’ve learned what a frightening concept an orbit is when thousands of debris flying at breathtaking speed mercilessly return every 90 minutes.

“Gravity” was so convincing in placing me into space, where there’s no gravity and no oxygen, that I had momentarily suspended the basic fundamentals of living that I learned through my life on earth.  But the film reminded me, in a scene in which fire breaks out in a space station, that, even in space, in a space station, there is oxygen to fuel fire, only in different form.  Small pieces of fire, as if torn from the main fire, can float around, and I can’t simply hose a fire extinguisher to put the fire out because the energy generated from the extrusion will blast me into a wall.  

I’m writing as if I’ve personally experienced what goes on in “Gravity,” and that’s what’s remarkable about this film.  It does a great job of covering a wide range of the space experience, from doing simple tasks to being under extreme distress, and it excels in making each of that experience breathtakingly realistic.  And it’s the 3D that really makes it work.

The use of 3D, which I loathe in most films, is distinctive in “Gravity” because it is a means to make the film an experience rather than to  enhance what is on the screen.  It’s used, not to add a popping effect but rather depth like in real life, except in a zero gravity environment.

I haven’t at all mentioned the plot of “Gravity,” and that’s because it really doesn’t matter.  The story  involves the efforts of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) trying to get back to earth after she got stranded in space when her shuttle was destroyed by a debris from an old Russian satellite.  Whether Dr. Stone can make a miraculous trip back to earth depends on how quickly she can work her way in space, hopping from one human-made station to another, as she navigates through the debris that comes around every 90 minutes.  Mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) provides some guidance to the otherwise hapless Dr. Stone.

Neither plot nor characters are developed in this film, although it does make a feeble attempt to add some depth to the Dr. Stone character by mentioning a daughter she lost at a young age.  This is one of those rare movies in which plot, plausible story telling and character development don’t matter in the slightest.   The key word for this movie is “experience,” as in experiencing what it is like to be in space, and it hardly makes a difference whether you make an emotional connection with the character through whom you feel the experience.  

No doubt millions of dollars were spent on special effects for “Gravity.”  Alfonso Cuarón, who wrote and directed the film, spent the money well, and he has an Oscar for his direction to show for it.  It’s much deserved.  I have never seen, or more appropriately, experienced, anything like this in theaters.  Now if only Michael Bay could understand why Cuarón gets credit for spending millions but he doesn’t.


2 Responses to ““Gravity” (2013) is a Remarkable Experience”

  1. 1 jon March 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    There were so many blatant scientific inaccuracies and fundamental flaws of physically what would be happening up there that I thought the movie was pretty terrible

    • 2 joesas March 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Now, I was told that astronauts who saw the film thought that it depicted the space experience accurately for the most part. Was I misled?

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