Here Am I Sitting in a Tin Can,
Far Above the World

Gravity was spectacular.

I saw the film two weeks ago, and whenever it's brought to mind by something I'm reading or a conversation I'm having I still feel an echo of the absolute sense of wonder I experienced in the theater.

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock as a civilian mission specialist sent up to work on the Hubble Space Telescope and George Clooney as the veteran commander of her shuttle, demands to be seen not only on as big a screen as possible but in 3D. If you've heard me talk (or read me write) about 3D, you know that I rarely recommend it.

Most 3D takes me out of what's on the screen rather than immersing me in it — hardly an experience that's worth extra cash and the hassle of fitting those glasses over the ones I'm already wearing. Same goes for dodgy CGI. The 3D in Gravity, however, is somehow not the usual diorama-like series of planes; it creates a rounded, seamless depth that feels truly three-dimensional.

And the special effects are likewise completely believable. While Bullock displays serious acting chops and, intermittently, a fantastic pair of legs in what is for maybe half its running time essentially a one-woman show in terms of character, the environment created around her is at least an equal attraction. I'm rather tight with my entertainment budget and I would have been satisfied to plunk down $16.50 if Gravity had simply been a virtual show-off travelogue like the 180°-panorama short films we used to see on the amusement piers I frequented as a kid.

You may be familiar with complaints about the film's scientific fealty in terms of the placement of certain objects in Earth orbit or, well, gravity itself. My short answer to this is that while I'm totally sympathetic to the disappointment felt by folks with a closer relationship to astrophysics than I — and while at least one sketchy development necessary to the story did turn out to be a fiction — since I bought everything that was happening onscreen as I watched, I really couldn't argue with it.

Gary Sinise is not a double amputee. Neither Henry Cavill nor Christopher Reeve could actually fly. Movies are full of artful deception and the audience willingly participates if the craft of the filmmakers is worthy. Who am I going to believe, Neil deGrasse Tyson or my own eyes? (That's not entirely a rhetorical question, mind you.) Entertainment Weekly also had a few experts fact-check the film, while The Hollywood Reporter published the largely rave reactions of living legend Buzz Aldrin.

Readers who haven't seen it should be warned that there are spoilers for the film through those links, just as there are coming up here after the next image — including a mention of the last scene of the movie. I truly hope that if you're a holdout what I've written here changes your mind and you get to see Gravity while it's still at the proverbial theater near you.

I questioned around the time that Bullock's character, Dr. Ryan Stone, was fading fast whether she would even survive. The film was so matter-of-fact, Stone's death seemed like a distinct possibility and one that I realized I was okay with. I rooted for her to make it, of course; however, watching her travails, at such an intimate lack of remove thanks to the close-quarters cinematography and enveloping 3D, left me feeling her exhaustion. It's not that I didn't want her to keep trying, but at some point luck, oxygen, and the spark of life run out.

What didn't occur to me until I heard folks discussing it after the film ended was that her surprise visit by the apparently dead Lt. Matt Kowalski, played by Clooney, might have been intended as a genuine wake-up call from beyond the veil rather than a mere figment of her oxygen-deprived mind. I tend to agree with critics who deemed the addition of a lost child to Stone's backstory a distracting embellishment, yet there's something to be said for the way the utter randomness of her daughter's death was reflected in her own present circumstances.

Although I wasn't expecting us to follow Stone's capsule all the way back to Earth, since we'd spent the entire film in space up to that point, I appreciated the filmmakers' restraint in drawing the curtain before any rescue personnel actually showed up. Having Stone crawl out of the ocean onto land, standing triumphantly on wobbly legs in the bright sun, was for me a nice touch in the way it reflected the emergence of primordial life, but your tolerance for borderline-precious visual metaphor may vary.

Gravity was directed by Alfonso Cuarón from a script written by Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón, edited by Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger, produced by Alfonso Cuarón for Esperanto Filmoj and David Heyman for Heyday Films, and distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment. At this writing it has earned $200 million in the US and over $350 million worldwide per Box-Office Mojo against a $100 million budget, with a crazy-high score of 96 on Metacritic.

Gravity images © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment.

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