This article may contain spoilers.
As a film studies graduate fascinated by the portrayal of ‘the real’ in cinema, for example; social realism, hyper-reality, cinema verité and neorealism, I was both surprised and pleased with the use of cinematic realism in one of the most anticipated and appreciated films of the year, Gravity.
Arguably, in the recent years of Hollywood cinema, realism has been overlooked in favour of fast editing styles, unrealistic storylines and the need to thrill. Whilst Gravity adopts many of the characteristics targeted at casual cinema goers, such as 3D, cheesy speeches, a star-studded cast and extensive CGI, it has seemingly combined them with rarer techniques like temporal continuity, long takes and all-round realism. Scientific accuracies aside, as the film has received some light-hearted criticism for some of its ‘mistakes’, Gravity has been able to achieve a great amount of attention and commercial success by implementing techniques that are under-appreciated in mainstream cinema.
Beginning with a long take overlooking the Earth from space, presumably from the crew’s viewpoint at the Hubble Space Telescope, Gravity immediately establishes a sense of realism that works to immerse viewers into the mysterious yet terrifying world of low Earth orbit. Here are some aspects of realism that Gravity has utilized to present one of the greatest space films ever made, and one of the best movies of the year.
1. Temporal Continuity (Realistic Depictions of Time)
The events of Gravity take place over a very short space of time, maybe as little as a few hours, and considering its running time of 90 minutes, its temporal continuity is clear. It utilizes long takes and its long scenes realistically depict the tedious tasks required for space repairs. Sandra Bullock’s uncontrollable spinning hell is played out completely, and the film seems to rarely skip time. Viewers experience the terrifying events of the spacewalk as the characters do, which intensifies the emotions of the film.
2. Sound Design
Gravity opens with a monologue explaining that space is silent, and it certainly commits to this reality with its sound design and soundtrack. Communications between Houston and the crew play out during the extra-vehicular activity, with great detail in making them sound like authentic radio transmissions. In addition, noises from tools used on Hubble are heard as dull vibrations, possibly from the perspective of the astronauts. This accurate and detailed used of sound is bound to garner plenty of awards for Gravity’s sound team.
As the astronauts float around in weightlessness, so do we; when Dr. Stone spins uncontrollably, we do too. This is achieved with the excellent cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, which takes on the positions, viewpoints and subjectivity of the characters, and catapults viewers into space.
Dr. Stone is on her first mission in space, and is expectantly feeling the effects of the transition. Plagued with a bad bout of nausea that appears to be affecting her heart rate, Bullock provides a brilliant and convincing performance depicting the fear, dread and hopelessness of someone lost during their first spacewalk. In addition, George Clooney shines as the confident, knowledgeable and experienced Matt who is commanding his final expedition. He is the opposite of Stone; calm, optimistic and in control, a role Clooney is perfect for. Some great casting choices that are sure to capture the attention of voters during the awards season.
Gravity is a brilliant film, made so by the above techniques and styles. Providing a sense of terrifying reality, viewers can expect an emotional and engrossing experience.