Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Age of Loneliness and Despair: Gravity

In this age of income disparity, with its escalating vitiation of communal responsibility, there is the sense that each of us is left to fend for herself. So, too, it is for Mission Specialist Ryan [“Dad wanted a boy”] Stone (Sandra Bullock) in Gravity, one of the nominations for best pic. I have yet to see all of this year’s nine nominations, but I would be deeply disappointed if this film took the prize. Co-written and directed (winner of Golden Globe) by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men; Y Tu Mama, Tambien; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), I found Gravity a tad tedious despite its vertiginous (think amusement park rides) special effects (CGI supervisor Tim Webber) and breathtaking views of earth from space (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki). Alone in space, Stone finds herself confronting one perfunctory crisis after another leaving little time for the audience to come to know the texture of her inner life. Perhaps we can, in this graceless age, no longer fathom, or bear, texture—Inside Llewyn Davis was passed over after all—and must be distracted from it. 

We do, however, come to know Stone’s mettle. Debris [motto: don’t litter] fallout, has put the astronauts in peril, and George Clooney, I mean Matthew Kowalsky, keeps Stone calm with small talk, their voices and the tenuous umbilicus, their only connection. There is a single moment of humor: “it’s not rocket science.” 

 Making it inside the space station capsule, disencumbered of her space suit, Stone floats in her underwear (remember Sigourney Weaver in Alien) like a joyful dancer, like a fetus in the womb. Was Stone’s favorite thing in space-- “the silence” --cavalier, or meant to foreshadow irony? Now all alone, lonelier  than Twombley in Her (see 1-21-14 post), the memory of human connection is strong, and Stone uses the voice of her mentor to soldier on.

My favorite scene is when she picks up a signal from earth and almost luxuriates in hearing again another human voice. But it is, like an unresponsive and unrecognizing mother, unable to hear her, and it is in a foreign tongue. She considers her imminent death, and the tragedy is that no one will mourn her. She even wishes to hear again what neighbors find so annoying, the barking of dogs. Most poignant is her recognition of a lullaby to sooth a crying baby.  She awakens to the hallucination of Kowalsky with new found determination. For a moment we hope Kowalsky is real—our own terror of being alone? Kowalsky is the voice in her head, the constant object, the good mother, that therapists strive to evoke. The music swells [please!] and we see Bullock’s sweet, pale, determined face. 

The viewer is ecstatic for her when she contacts [motto: have your fire extinguisher ready] the Chinese space station. On reentry, again the music swells [OMG, really?]. When she finally makes it to earth, emerging from the water like the first creature from the primordial ooze to stand heavily on land, we do not think about the inevitable osteoporosis and, worse, PTSD: the life threatening situation, the survival guilt, the sight of Sharif’s head blown out while the photo of his family hovers.

Is the only attachment en utero, after which we are forever alone? 

“…that’s why we keep talking, somebody might be listening” and it is “scary as shit, being untethered up here.”

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