Sunday, October 13, 2013

GRAVITY: NOT FEELING THE PULL

 

DIRECTED BY ALFONSO CUARON
STARRING: SANDRA BULLOCK and GEORGE CLOONEY

There is so much about Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ that has previously been filmed, written, talked or even sung about that its single defining feature is the treatment. For starters, it might seem like an obvious thing to say: ‘Solaris’ has been made twice over in the last three decades with George Clooney in one of them, coincidentally. Of course, we live in an age of recycled plots thinly veiled by layers of CGI, digital surround sound, 3D, IMAX and other effects. In a paradigm of purpose, some of these films don’t deserve to be made if not for the excuse of high-end technology. The ‘Transformers’ franchise stands as a clear example. ‘Gravity’ falls in that line, where while its filmmaking is exquisite, even breathtaking at moments (the spacemen frequently stop to point out how ‘beautiful’ it is, up there), it offers nothing exceptional otherwise.

Having made that preposterous statement only makes me more obligated to rationalize it. So I shall. ‘Gravity’ is in the league of films that best exemplify the technological advancements in the realm of cinema, but which also lack the intellectual sophistication it has failed to achieve as time progressed. It is not the first in that category. ‘Avatar’, for one, is. ‘Life of Pi’ was soon to follow in its footsteps. These are films that definitely talked about things worth discussing, but all three of them (I hate to include ‘Gravity’ in that list) fail to pack a punch with that statement. Amidst the spectacle and all the furor about it, these films succumbed to an oversimplification that is a bane not of the medium, but of the trade. After all, these are Hollywood studio pictures made by clever people with a big budget riding on them.

However, ‘Gravity’ transgresses most boundaries that such films set for themselves. First of all, it is incredibly short, crisp and neatly narrated. The fact that it does not discuss anything remarkable does not mean it rambles. Secondly, even though the casting of familiar, maybe too familiar, faces like George Clooney or Sandra Bullock makes it inevitable for the producers, director and the writers to play to their respective stereotypes, ‘Gravity’ does not fall too deep into the chasms of gimmickry. Both Clooney and Bullock are cleverly written into the script. Especially Bullock, who plays a space captain with a guy’s name and a loss that has benumbed her. Cuaron thus relieves her of an acting load, making the process easier and more methodical; as simple as following instructions from NASA headquarters.

Captain Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Captain Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) are part of a team of astronauts that has been sent to fix a NASA space station. The ordeal seems to be taking them longer than expected and proves to be futile too; time that Matt spends space-walking listening to good ol’ country like the Texan he is, as he jokes about beating Anatoly Solovyev's space-walking record. Their schedule, unfortunately, will not permit him to. The situation seems under control in an introductory sequence of epic proportions, which will join the likes of timeless classics like ‘Star Wars’. It is almost like a factory scene, with workers tightening bolts, undoing catches, repairing circuits – except they’re doing it all in zero gravity.

Houston on the radio then declares an emergency situation. At first it seems avoidable. The Russians have shot their own satellite with a missile, and its debris is traveling faster than a bullet in an orbit different from theirs. However the orbits soon overlap and the space station is hit. Matt and Ryan are sole survivors amongst a list of deceased including an Indian from Harvard. Ryan then complains of low O2 levels in her tank, which becomes the second crisis for the two of them to overcome. Also, all satellites are down resulting in a communication blackout. Matt and Ryan can communicate with each other, but neither of them can touch base. The protocol then becomes borderline spiritual; delightfully absurd. Keep talking. Someone might actually save your life. With that as their first leap of faith, Matt and Ryan take a second one as they try to reach the International Space Station before the satellite debris comes back again. They have 90 minutes. Ryan has less than 10 percent oxygen in her tank. And Matt, like Han Solo, has spunk characteristic of a true American space maverick.You know he’ll save the day, at any cost.

Not only is he the heartland hero, he is also quite the fabulist. In sync with his happy-go-lucky personality, Matt often recounts encounters from his past, all of which are humorous spins on episodes of dejection. He is the endearing optimist whose purpose in life arises from the fact that everything is bound to fail. Ryan, on the other hand, has lost all reason to live when her four-year old died in a ‘silly’ accident. She was driving when she got the call informing her of her daughter’s death. The wheels never stopped ever since. Nor does she drive anymore. She goes where the wheels take her, even if it’s in outer space. Matt is the right person to bring her back to life at this point, for he exemplifies ‘living deliberately’, as Thoreau put it. He even resonates with Camus’ dissertation on the Myth of Sisyphus in his climactic monologue, when he says it is oh-so-easy to stay in ether and ‘go to sleep’ undisturbed. But in the very ease of that task, you find your calling that makes you “put your foot down” quite literally and go on living. The struggle is not to deny that life is an accident but to embrace it and define one’s purpose thereon.

It is here that Cuaron saves the worst for the best, reducing the defining scene of the film to a tacky sophomoric stunt. The whole weight of ‘Gravity’ then rang as hollow as ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ afterwards. It is almost like Jonas Cuaron (Cuaron’s son, a thirteen-year old who has been given co-writing credits) said, “Papa, Matt’s ghost visits Ryan and tells her how she can operate the Soyuz and save herself. And then she wakes up, and he’s gone. Surprise!” Cuaron on his part sees the merit in that sequence. It is the only scene where Clooney takes his helmet off and shows his crew-cut, clean shaven, handsome face to the world. Surely you cannot cast George Clooney in a role and have him hidden in a suit of armour! Where’s the fun if Ryan had heard instructions from Matt on the voice-transmitter when he was nowhere to be seen, only for him to die on her again, leaving her in eternal doubt on whether she actually heard him? Wouldn’t that have reduced the fabulous fare that ‘Gravity’ is, to an absurdist no-go like ‘The Dumb Waiter’? Here we are painfully reminded that Hollywood is still stuck in the paradigm of the ‘Contact’s and the ‘Cast Away’s, trading on gimmicks.

One thing commendable about ‘Gravity’ is that it looks comparatively less deliberate with its multi-culturist efforts, for a Hollywood studio movie. Ryan jumps from the International Space Station on to a Russian escape-pod, and from there to a Chinese one. If you follow closely, you will even see she wears a Russian space-suit in the second half of the film. Matt remarks about the beauty of the Ganges, there is an image of Christ in one spaceship and a Zen idol in another. It is almost like multi-culturism is an alternative for product-placement, and Cuaron has played it well writing it into fundamental plot details that make logical sense.

So ‘Gravity’ restates the existentialist argument on the purpose of life. Even Matt when he asks poor Ryan to “learn to let go” and sets himself adrift in space, doesn’t really choose to end his life. His choice is to continue living so he can set the new space-walking record. At that moment, he chooses to define his purpose of existence in wanting to achieve that feat, which is what he sets out to do. Ryan then follows “Obi Wan” Matt’s path of finding excitement in the unexciting prospect of living. Both Clooney and Bullock are earnest with their acting efforts, even though I felt Bullock put a little too much Bullock in Ryan, in a more Jodie Foster role. And Cuaron is incredibly precise as a director, piecing together some inventive visuals, with a fantastic editing crew and an absolutely stunning music score. His emphasis on technical solidity to execute a simple, tight narrative shows the mark of a true Hollywood genius. However, if you are looking for the man who made ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ about a decade ago, you will not find him.

Still ‘Gravity’ is a stellar film, no doubt. But it has its pull reduced by half, all because of counteracting forces of Hollywood gimmickry. And, needless to say, the misplaced idiosyncrasies of Sandra Bullock, who makes it look like a ‘Speed’ sequel, shot in outer space.

2 comments:

Payoffers dotin said...

Earn from Ur Website or Blog thr PayOffers.in!

Hello,

Nice to e-meet you. A very warm greetings from PayOffers Publisher Team.

I am Sanaya Publisher Development Manager @ PayOffers Publisher Team.

I would like to introduce you and invite you to our platform, PayOffers.in which is one of the fastest growing Indian Publisher Network.

If you're looking for an excellent way to convert your Website / Blog visitors into revenue-generating customers, join the PayOffers.in Publisher Network today!


Why to join in PayOffers.in Indian Publisher Network?

* Highest payout Indian Lead, Sale, CPA, CPS, CPI Offers.
* Only Publisher Network pays Weekly to Publishers.
* Weekly payments trough Direct Bank Deposit,Paypal.com & Checks.
* Referral payouts.
* Best chance to make extra money from your website.

Join PayOffers.in and earn extra money from your Website / Blog

http://www.payoffers.in/affiliate_regi.aspx

If you have any questions in your mind please let us know and you can connect us on the mentioned email ID info@payoffers.in

I’m looking forward to helping you generate record-breaking profits!

Thanks for your time, hope to hear from you soon,
The team at PayOffers.in

Payoffers dotin said...

Earn from Ur Website or Blog thr PayOffers.in!

Hello,

Nice to e-meet you. A very warm greetings from PayOffers Publisher Team.

I am Sanaya Publisher Development Manager @ PayOffers Publisher Team.

I would like to introduce you and invite you to our platform, PayOffers.in which is one of the fastest growing Indian Publisher Network.

If you're looking for an excellent way to convert your Website / Blog visitors into revenue-generating customers, join the PayOffers.in Publisher Network today!


Why to join in PayOffers.in Indian Publisher Network?

* Highest payout Indian Lead, Sale, CPA, CPS, CPI Offers.
* Only Publisher Network pays Weekly to Publishers.
* Weekly payments trough Direct Bank Deposit,Paypal.com & Checks.
* Referral payouts.
* Best chance to make extra money from your website.

Join PayOffers.in and earn extra money from your Website / Blog

http://www.payoffers.in/affiliate_regi.aspx

If you have any questions in your mind please let us know and you can connect us on the mentioned email ID info@payoffers.in

I’m looking forward to helping you generate record-breaking profits!

Thanks for your time, hope to hear from you soon,
The team at PayOffers.in