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“Gravity, or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract each other, and is most commonly experienced as the agent that gives weight to objects and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped.”

Thanks, Wikipedia.

As Gravity began, I thought I was about to watch Buried: The Space Edition. I quickly learned that many of my fellow moviegoers, similarly, thought that director Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller was going to feature Sandra Bullock, in an extraordinary performance, being locked both inside a spacesuit and, inside limitless space, for a large majority of the film.

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Instead, the movie went far deeper. Possibly deeper than soundless, fathomless, space, and straight into the human soul.

Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone is a brilliant engineer on her very first mission in space. Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure what exactly she was there to fix, but it looked really complicated. George Clooney, disarmingly mellow and often hilarious, plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, who’s there to provide mission support and been-there-done-that-twice expertise.

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Of course, disaster strikes before Dr. Stone can finish repairing whatever that high-tech gadget was she was tinkering with.

Ironically, despite the very real battles being fought with malfunctioning satellites, space debris zooming around at destructive speeds, fire, oxygen depletion, scary drifts into space, various escapes from multiple types of space vehicles, etc., the real threat is what’s happening inside the heart and mind of the gifted, but very troubled, Dr. Stone. In the course of this movie, we learn just how the gravity of the vast expanse within our soul can give needed weight to our daily lives, but can also cause us to collapse when we hold on too tightly to things that we need to let go of.

Cuaron is obviously quite fascinated by the concept of humanity. In Children of Men, he explored society’s capacity for cruelty when it places greater value on things like nationality than on things like empathy. In Gravity, he explores the value of life itself, as experienced on an elemental, internal level. Both are fascinating, beautiful conversations to watch. Gravity, in particular, is filled with grand, visual symbols of life, some intrinsic to our existence, some responses to our existence. In our society, all these symbols are often treated very much like the phenomenon called gravity.

Overall, I found the movie to be breathtaking in its almost suffocating, and often terrifying, metaphor of how painful it can feel to be human. Many of us will never be in space, but at the same time, all of us have felt the things that Bullock so masterfully translates: fear, isolation, terror, sadness, grief, desperation, resignation. Admittedly, the last quarter of the film feels weighed down by its heavy use of Murphy’s Law on steroids, and the ending, particularly the music, felt overdone and very forced. But overall, the movie was a cinematographically-wondrous and exciting exploration of the metaphysical cords that tether us to this world, for better or for worse.

As Dr. Stone struggles to stay afloat, both literally and figuratively, this film asks an interesting question: when do you hold on, and when do you let go?

“Gravity” opens today in theaters nationwide!

Whitney Greer runs

Follow her on Twitter @TheCinefille



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