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“Gravity” may be boring, but a great spectacle

By Theresa Gaffney

Section: Arts

October 18, 2013

“Gravity,” which opened in theaters on Oct. 4, is not about gravity, but rather the lack thereof. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the movie begins in space. Bullock’s character, medical engineer Ryan Stone, is installing a program into the Hubble Space Telescope. The function of this program is the first of many ambiguities within the plot of the adventure story. While Stone is supposed to be a medical doctor, Clooney’s character Matt Kowalski has to explain to her why she feels light-headed when her tank runs out of oxygen.

These small hiccups in the film are forgettable. What is not, however, is the lack of structure to the plot. The movie, charted out on paper, is a straight line. Conflict leads straight to a resolution. There is no true climax, there is no twist. The biggest shift in the action happens at the very beginning, when the first of many waves of satellite trash hits, leaving Stone and Kowalski alone in space.

After this dramatic collision, the audience is taken on what feels like an endless roller coaster ride: lots and lots of spinning. Stone travels from one space station to another on a quest to get back to Earth. At each stop she is faced with the similar issues—this station catches fire, that escape pod gets caught in some wires. She gets to one ship, and it can’t take her home, so she moves on to another. Finally, against all believable odds, Stone takes an escape pod and, in a meteor shower, crashes to earth. When she lands in the ocean and begins to sink, the audience actually groaned at another life-threatening obstacle.

Perhaps more offensive than the lack of a plot structure is the lack of a relatable protagonist. The most you can feel for Stone is sadness that she could die out in space alone. But without a real backstory, the audience has nothing to hold on to in the character. A brief mention of her deceased daughter, who was left unnamed, was not enough to make the audience connect to Stone. If anything, her want of a family on Earth meant that her death would be rather inconsequential.

The most promising aspect of the script was in the budding relationship between Kowalski and Stone. Kowalski’s affable nature countered beautifully with Stone’s hard, almost stone-like qualities. Instead of watching the connection mature, Kowalski dies early in the film, cutting off the burgeoning companionship between himself and Stone. Clooney’s creation of a character as easily likable as Kowalski could have been utilized for a dramatic turn of events with his death, rather than an expected moment.

“Gravity” presents itself as a feature on the vastness of space more than a story. As Clooney reminds us repeatedly, “What a beautiful sight.” The wondrous awe of the setting acknowledged by the character was just as striking on the big screen. Landscape shots of Earth, the sun and the space around it all are visually stunning. At one moment, Bullock curls up into the fetal position in the center of the frame, suspended in mid-air. The camera dwells on her in a truly breathtaking moment that contrasts sharply with earlier chaos. The film also uses different camera perspectives that bring the audience into the characters’ heads. Often, the point of view floats into Stone’s helmet, with her breath visible on the glass.

“Gravity” was a good movie, yet it wasn’t all it could have been. As a thriller and a drama, it fails to drum up any real reaction. At worst, “Gravity” lacks a plot and a relatable protagonist, but at best, is a beautiful 90-minute spectacle.

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