We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," about astronauts coping with disaster, is a huge and technically dazzling film. Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's spacefarers go about their business, you may feel—for the first time since "The Right Stuff," perhaps—that a Hollywood blockbuster grasps the essence of a job that many can't imagine without feeling dizzy. The panoramas of astronauts tumbling against starfields and floating through space stations are both informative and lovely.
But the most surprising and impressive thing about "Gravity" isn't its scale, its suspense, or its sense of wonder; it's that, in its heart, it is not primarily a film about astronauts, or space, or even a specific catastrophe. At times it plays like a high-tech version of shipwreck or wilderness survival story that happens to take place among the stars, and that would fit nicely on a double-bill alongside "Deliverance," "127 Hours," "Cast Away," "Rescue Dawn" or the upcoming "All Is Lost." For all its stunning exteriors, it's really concerned with emotional interiors, and it goes about exploring them with simplicity and directness, letting the actors's faces and voices carry the burden of meaning. It's a film about what happens to the psyche as well as the body in the aftermath of catastrophe.
Not content to observe the agonizing physical details of the astronauts' struggles, "Gravity" goes deep into the feelings of one character, Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone, a first-time space traveller who boards a shuttle alongside Clooney's Matt Kowalski to repair the Hubble telescope. When debris destroys the telescope and their ride home, Ryan finds herself marooned in orbit alongside Kowalski, taking an unasked-for crash course in disaster management, learning all she can from her more experienced partner, struggling to control the anxious heartbeat that flutters on the soundtrack along with her shallow breathing and the sporadic hiss of backpack thruster jets.
"Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission," Kowalski tells mission control (voiced, in one of Cuarón's only film-buffish in-jokes, by Ed Harris, a veteran of both "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13"). We hear Kowalski speak this line for the first of many times during the majestic opening shot. We see space, and Earth—and beyond it, a tiny speck that slowly draws close, revealing the mission, the vehicles, the characters.