GRAVITY. Breathtaking science fiction experience

I have never flown in space. I have not been a passenger on a shuttle, not risen above the atmospheric vapors, not looked down to easily distinguish one continent from another by their shapes.

Jerzy Babarowski

13 December 2023

GRAVITY. Breathtaking science fiction experience

I have not experienced weightlessness, not floated in the emptiness of space, and not seen the sun slowly emerging from the elliptical shape of the Earth. I thought that after watching Gravity, my desire to travel to space would multiply many times. Now I know that I was wrong – after watching Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, I don’t need to go anywhere.

‘My God, what a view,’ says Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, taking a moment to detach from repairing the space station and looking down at the Earth’s landscape below. We have no choice but to agree with him – this is one of the first, but certainly not the last moments when all we can do is marvel at the work of Alfonso Cuarón and his team. Because Gravity is full of such moments: it is a film about what one person means in the face of the overwhelming, black emptiness of space, about the disorientation and terror felt when suddenly alone on the dark side of the Earth, where the sun’s rays don’t reach, and the only light comes from bright star points – and about finding oneself when it is most difficult, digging up hope where there is none. Virtuosically directed and insanely photographed, it raises the bar for special effects – it’s a new kind of cinematic spectacle that we haven’t seen before, an unforgettable cinematic experience.


I could watch the nearly seventeen-minute opening shot with the majestic camera observing the astronauts indefinitely: it’s just a routine scene from the lives of a group of astronauts, tinkering with something near the Hubble telescope and listening to country music. But Cuarón spoils his audience, and over the next ninety minutes, he will show them much more. His protagonists are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a biologist on her first space mission, and the aforementioned Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran leading his last (of course) expedition. During a routine repair of the Hubble space telescope, the researchers suddenly receive a message about the Russians (of course) shooting down their own satellite. Its debris hits other relays, resulting in a chain reaction (the Kessler syndrome), and a cluster of fragments heads straight for them. A catastrophe occurs, causing the scientists’ ship to be destroyed, and Stone and Kowalski are left alone in space, without communication with the base, forced to fight for survival…

GRAVITY Sandra Bullock George Clooney

And we will witness this struggle throughout the rest of the movie. To make the experience of a person in space credible and present it to the viewer, Cuarón uses a whole range of directorial means, creating a flawlessly constructed cinematic domino: acting, music, sound, cinematography, special effects, editing, and, most importantly, 3D, all come together in Gravity in a way that many contemporary directors could envy.

On the surface, we have, of course, breathtaking shots by the wizard Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón’s longtime collaborator. We owe him the extraordinary visual layers of Children of Men or Terrence Malick’s recent films. Lubezki and Cuarón had experimented with long, several-minute shots before, but in Gravity, they reach a new level of visual poetry. The camera in Gravity doesn’t just film – it dances, with grace, seemingly casually showing what’s happening on the screen, more interested in playing with the interplay of light and shadow on the rising Earth than in dialogues and script nuances, indifferent to the characters’ dramas.


Cuaron also uses unconventional camera techniques in Gravity, which are rarely seen in such big productions: he makes sudden zoom-ins and outs, mixes perspectives, at one moment presents the action from the subjective perspective of the character, only to show the entire space of the drama a moment later. In one scene, we observe events literally from Dr. Stone’s eyes, like in a first-person shooter, and in another, Cuaron slowly zooms in on the face of the heroine helplessly spinning in space, imperceptibly passing behind her spacesuit visor, showing the smallest wrinkles on her face, only to return to the previous perspective.

Of course, Gravity wouldn’t be the same without 3D. I can only repeat what I wrote when I saw the trailer – there has not been a film that justified the use of 3D more than Cuarón’s production. Even Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams could easily do without the 3D layer. In Gravity, 3D is a means of expression that is an active element of the narrative, making us more deeply immerse in the characters’ spacesuits and feel the overwhelming emptiness of space. I can’t imagine watching Gravity in 2D, let alone on a home screen or on TV.

GRAVITY Sandra Bullock

The visual layer is supported by exemplary sound design, primarily through the fantastic musical score by Steven Price. Composed of often overlapping sounds, the music creates tension that can be cut with a knife, but that’s only part of its function – it is simply a brilliantly working score with the image. How is it outside of it? I don’t know yet, but I will definitely check. The sounds themselves have also been fantastically mixed with the whole – for example, hearing Dr. Stone’s increasingly rapid breath, we don’t need to know that her oxygen in the suit is about to run out.

Sorry for writing so much about the technical aspects of Gravity, but they are what make this film powerful. And even though none of them alone would be enough to tell the story, their flawless blending together makes watching the tragedy of the astronauts from the ‘Explorer’ shuttle an unforgettable experience. This is all the more important because their story itself is not very engaging. As with many high-budget productions, the script is the element that falters the most in Gravity. Minimalistic and humble – perfectly tailored for cinematic spectacle – it is unfortunately predictably and quite banally predictable. As rightly noted by those who have read it in isolation from the film, it would be material for a short study rather than a full-length feature – only its extraordinary execution justifies it, and fortunately, that’s what we have here. However, the story of a traumatized woman seeking meaning in life after the death of her beloved daughter is rather a pretext to show off flashy technology than anything else.

GRAVITY Sandra Bullock

The situation is not improved by Sandra Bullock, who deserves respect for the amount of work she put into the role but who, at the same time, adds unnecessary, sometimes downright comical emotional heaviness to her character. Or maybe it’s those cheesy lines she says to herself…? Much more satisfaction comes from watching George Clooney, but what’s the point if he plays the same George Clooney we know from Cary Grant’s days?

But I’m nitpicking. I don’t intend to deceive anyone here – you don’t watch Gravity for the story but for the unique cinematic experience. In this respect, James Cameron’s words of admiration for the film are not surprising; he has always adhered to the principle that the more fantastic and stunning worlds are shown to the viewer on the screen, the more universal and simple the story accompanying them must be. Alfonso Cuarón adheres to this very principle and executes it splendidly. With great satisfaction, I observe his career – he is one of the few non-American directors who has dug into the big money of Hollywood and does with it what he wants, all while maintaining the coveted individual style and avoiding any missteps. A lesson to be remembered by Polish creators. Creating Gravity, he reached a new level of cinematic spectacle and raised the bar that many of his colleagues in the profession will try to reach.