After cursing the makers of Chennai Express for cheating the audience with a load of mindlessness, wondering why I thought Shuddh Desi Romance unimaginative and bleak when everyone else called it bold and different, sort of regaining hope when I watched Lunch Box, and then ruining it all by thinking Besharam would further deepen my baseless love for Ranbir Kapoor, only to come out minus a few hundred braincells, I decided to watch Gravity. A decision largely based on the promise of the pretty face that is George Clooney, I’ll be honest. But also based on the desperate need to watch something that wouldn’t make me come out feeling like a sudden vacuum had developed where my brain was just a few hours ago. I just felt I needed to correct the horrors of having subjected myself to a string of Bollywood debacles, and whether the plot was indeed plausible, the story held my attention or not, somehow I felt a pretty face that can act, would suffice. But I was wrong again.
Gravity gave me more than a pretty face in George Clooney (and a look at the super fit Sandra Bullock). It turned out to be more than a sci-fi thriller and it pretty much blew my mind. A simple, predictable story, typically crafted along the lines of a single persons victory overcoming all (some incredible and improbable) odds a la Castaway and 127 Hours. Yawwn, yes we’ve been there, done that a few dozen times already. But Gravity told the story with impeccable cinematography, picturisation, some clever writing and a few very telling metaphors thrown in, which struck me deeper than they were maybe meant to.
If you haven’t already watched it but plan to, read no further. This post might ruin it for you. But if you’re okay with a few spoilers, or have seen it, proceed at your own discretion.
“I hate space,” Sandra Bullock curses under her breath, close to the end of Gravity. Funny declaration, given how much the need for space occupies such a huge chunk of mindspace for our generation. On the surface, Bullock is working her way back to earth after being set adrift in space and being cut off from all telecommunication, but of course she has a deeper battle raging within. One that she has to fight herself to overcome. Choosing life over loneliness, despair, grief and hopelessness.
Predictably, nothing gets her. Not being struck multiple times, by collateral damage from trash floating around at incredible speeds in space. The very thing that renders her space shuttle useless, kills her entire crew. Not even losing her only hope of getting back to earth — George Clooney — fifteen minutes into the film. Considering I chose to watch the movie purely because it had him in it, I was cursing under my breath to realise that he spends all his screen time inside a space helmet and then they kill him off.
So nothing gets her, but here’s the thing. Not for a moment while watching it, was I tempted to think about the plausibility of the situation or the accuracy of the sequence of events. Because that’s how gripping the plot was. Incredibly tightly edited, with seamless, ingenious camera work and some absolutely breathtaking views of our planet from outerspace, and I had no time to wonder if what was happening could really be true.
It didn’t matter. And that’s the thing about a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s probable or not. If you can tell it well, hold an audience and convince them that what they watched is entirely true, your job as a story teller is done.
The movie had a many memorable moments, lines that will stay with me, scenes that I came back thinking about.
When Bullock first realises she is adrift, and calms down enough to compute her situation, there is a scene in complete silence, where she is looking out at space, and you can see a gorgeous bulge of the planet earth reflected in the curve of her helmet. The camera zooms in almost in slow motion, closet to her face and seamlessly pans right into her helmet, turns and before you know it you’re seeing the planet from her eyes. From far, far away in space. Making you feel so small, helpless, insignificant and humbled. Just thinking about that shot is enough to give me goosebumps.
Then there’s the one where Clooney directs Bullock on flying a part of the ISS back to earth, and he says “just point the damn thing to earth. It’s not rocket science.”
And of course, “I hate space” — the punchline, as far as I’m concerned.
And the scene where Bullock finally lands via a chute into a lake, but her space suit weighs her down, making it difficult for her to swim up to get a breath of air. She struggles, thrashing her limbs around, when a frog gracefully wades by, springing up gently and nimbly. Brilliantly juxtaposing her difficulty, against the frog’s ease.
Finally when she makes her way out, her body takes a couple of moments to re-accustom itself to the force of gravity. She struggles to stand, giving in to the force of the very thing she was craving to come back to, all through the movie, the very thing she needs finally beats her.
Bullock’s story is about rebirth. And a couple of scenes, Bullock floating into fetal position when she briefly finds her way back to safety inside the ISS and when she struggles to stand up at the end, almost like a newborn animal does, beautifully bring that story to the fore. It is about coming back to life, so to speak. And the movie tells the story brilliantly, employing just two characters (only one, for the larger part of the film), just one setting — space, no costume changes, no song and dance, not even the luxury of telling back stories. And yet for me, it hit the spot. It made me relate to Sandra Bullock. It made me feel her pain, her struggle with coming to terms with harsh reality and fighting tooth and nail, till she makes her way back.
I enjoyed it for its simplicity in the plot and the storytelling — a girl lost in space, finds her way back. But the other aspects of the film all worked so well to make it memorable. Outstanding camera work, playing with the loss of orientation thanks to no gravity, the brilliant music and sound design, and dramatic picturisation. Not since Life of Pi, have I seen a film that has employed the power of 3D for what it can do, rather than just unleash a few gimmicks. Gravity did that beautifully, and for a change I watched a 3D movie without having to take my glasses off to ease my eyes every now and then.
Very subtly, in parallel to the main story, the film also gently made a few points, I thought. About how as a race we are constantly trying to outdo ourselves, push boundaries even where they shouldn’t be. How we think we can overcome and control most forces of nature, change the natural course of things, when most other species are just happy existing the way they are, making do with the skills they have been blessed with (like the frog happily floating by), and living rather peacefully.
The journey to space? That’s just a really clever metaphor, I thought.
PS: The film throws in a second dose of George Clooney, who comes back as a vision in Bullock’s hallucination. And this time around, they take his helmet off! Nuff said.