Rarely do I see a movie twice in the theater these days. Even more rarely do I see a movie twice in 3D. But seeing a movie twice in 3D, in the theater, in its opening weekend, was an unheard bit of ridiculousness in my life, before this weekend.
And yeah, I understand it was Conference weekend, so yeah, I understand how much time that meant I clocked in staring at a screen in a period of 72 hours. Deal with it. Gravity is that kind of movie.
Which is not to say, per se, that it’s an excellent movie, though I think it is that, too, or something very close to it. But it’s that kind of movie — the kind that feels like an event in 3D, whose enjoyment derives not as much from the plot as the sheer experience watching it. I strongly recommend seeing it, on a big screen, with those glasses.
The film stars Sandra Bullock as a doctor/new astronaut named Ryan Stone (her dad wanted a boy, and the name stuck, we find out). She gives a great performance, and most pleasantly enough, is solidly conceived as a person. We see so many badass rock’em sock’em female heroes these days that it makes one wonder if things have really gotten better for female characters on film. Being physically strong is not what we mean when we say we need more strong female characters — we need female characters that are authentic, honest, flawed, fully developed as humans. Strongly written.
In that respect, I think Gravity does the job — it doesn’t give us an action hero, just an honest, flawed, happens-to-be-female lead. She may not be that well developed, but that’s not the point for this film, because nobody is. We’re given just enough of her life to be able to relate, and to understand what’s going on. But the movie is primarily about the terror of something going wrong in space, and her character is much more developed than any other.
Then I heard a critic speculate that perhaps the reason that she was written as a woman in the film is that that way, she’d feel more vulnerable against the horrors that ensue. That speculation made me sad, that what I thought was inconsequential for the film, the gender of the lead, was actually just a not-particularly-enlightened ploy. Fortunately, it appears that wasn’t exactly the case.
Apparently, the studio wanted to make the lead a man, but director Alfonso Cuarón fought to make her a woman. And his stated reason is not that she’d seem weaker, but “it was always important to us that the central character be a woman, because we felt there was an understated but vital correlation of her being a maternal presence against the backdrop of Mother Earth.” Okay, whatever man.
The juxtaposition of beauty and terror — both of which are unrelenting here — is something I noticed while watching, and it’s a reflection of reality. Most horror does come in the form of something beautiful, if we focus our attention that way. Of course, we in the audience are in a much better position to recognize the beauty of the situation than the characters are. Ryan is a little busy trying to stop spinning around endlessly and to find something — anything — that will get her safely to the ground. No wonder she says at one point, “I hate space.” We kind of don’t blame her for not noticing the jaw-dropping beauty of it all.
I love how scientifically sound the film is, despite some nitpicks by my favorite astrophysicist. It’s far and above what most films do with outer space. The film especially soars when it takes advantage of the soundlessness of space to create terrifying tension.
I’ll be seeing Gravity many more times, and probably at least a time or two more in theaters, in 3D. I’d also love to know what aspects of the film you think I missed from a feminist lens. I admit to being still a little bit in the swept-away phase to be too critical at this point. So sound off in the comments, and enjoy an excellent film about a female scientist in outer space!