The Fickle Beauty of Sandow in Space
Alfonso Cuarón, Director of Gravity, has apparently reached the Roche Limit within his career; according to his latest piece of work. His infinitely smaller mass has been absorbed into the monolithic gravitational pull of Hollywood, and with this his messages and ability has been distorted, manipulated to produce something that attempts to tackle various metaphysical issues via a physical transcendence, akin to that depicted within John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s writings, yet ends up being a parody of itself; implementing itself within a genre it has no right to be indoctrinated within and limiting itself to the realm of the visually spectacular, yet emotionally unstimulating. Despite this, it has duped the mass public audience into allowing its self asserted prominence to be seen as grandeur within the current cinematic climate, an insult to the medium as a narrative art-form, not just as a visual spectacle; essentially as that is all that Gravity is, a spectacle.
The Modern Cinema of Attractions
I will only be addressing Gravity as a science fiction film, not because I believe it deserves a place within that genre – it is simply a drama set in space – but because it has placed itself within that genre; albeit with no ability to tackle the institutional topics that the genre possesses the ability to discuss. The greatest science-fictional films tackle issues of philosophy, politics and intimate human relations with the backdrop of the expansiveness of space or the prospect of a dystopian future, for example within 2001: A space Odyssey, Moon or Blade runner. Gravity attempts to interpret this discourse within a modern setting, but in doing so clumsily places fragmentations of philosophical imagery and visual allegory within the narrative in amongst the sheer spectacle of the piece. Ultimately, this film is a spectacle, its fickle narrative and story is second place to the visual action taking place; it is a reverting back to a draconic stage of the early cinema of attraction, people want to see something pretty, with bright colours and famous individuals that still look immaculate and pristine; despite their presence within the terrifying vacuum of space, the fact that one is perpetually starved of oxygen and under some of the greatest possible stress, the ensuing knowledge of immediate death, not once does Sandra Bullock look dishevelled.
The reason for the title is thus introduced, this movie is not a piece of art, and it is not consciously constructed to propose various messages about the limits of existence, existentialism in general, the bounds of human philosophy or an interpretation of the constraints of capitalism within an unearthly environment. It simply exists to look nice. This would not be an issue if it was self-aware enough to know its specific place within the internal hierarchy of cinema. But, it does not, and in lacking this obversation Gravity tries to be something that it doesn’t deserve to be. It attempts to be an articulate piece of modern cinema, discussing issues relevant to the current zeitgeist, relevant to the genre it has bulldozed its way into via the use of expansive imagery and loud, visceral noises, yet it is no different from early Edison footage taken straight from the Black Maria. This film is a modern rendition of that purely exhibitionist cinema at the turn of the 20th century, gilded with the attempts to articulate a message that is seemingly profound; despite the fact that it was tackled in far greater depth within films such as 2001: A space Odyssey, so as to satisfy the cinema viewers who are completely able to suspend their disbelief to the point of stupidity. This film is no different from placing your eyes against a Kinetograph, in downtown New York during the turn of the 20th century, and watching Sandow flex in front of you, or watching gymnasts flitter around the screen; the only difference between them is that the latter option is far greater due to the fact that it lasted a maximum of twenty seconds, and wasn’t a narcissistic, self-indulgent horror of Hollywood.
Transcendence, Journey, and the Eyes of the Space Child
It is a beautiful image that Gravity has mastered, don’t get me wrong, whilst attempting to capture the awe inspiring grandeur of space and the visceral, violent and destructive power it possesses against the fallibility of human curiosity and advancing intellect. Yet, this is all it is, a beautiful picture. Despite it’s attempts, it has not established any form of a philosophical discourse about anything metaphysical or religious, despite the fact that it attempts to be via various imagery permeating throughout the film. This imagery, although it is present, does not allude to any greater significance within the text, it exists because it is believed to be necessary; and it exists because it is a projection of the bounds of this fickle narrative, a manifestation of what the film thinks it should be, placed within the text so as to enable it a higher status than simply a ‘spectacle’, what it has limited itself to. It attempts to establish an emotional intimacy between the two main characters, yet this is a purely Dionysian relationship; they have no emotional intimacy, they simply share an attraction and a necessity of co-operation. As George Clooney floats away into the abyss, he asks Bullock: “Now we’re separated, you do find me attractive don’t you?”, summing up their relationship within one small phrase. Also added to this is his misinterpretation of her eye colour. This fact of the interpretation of her eye colour is not only a reference to Clooney’s fickle physical attraction to Bullock, but it is also a clumsy metaphor placed to allude to the premonition of her future position as a ‘Star Child’, a transcendent being that once was blind, but now can see. This Star Child, possibly the only meaningful philosophical agendum this film possesses, is implemented simply because it feels it can and it must; it is also a blatant recycle of the theories, among others, introduced during 2001: A space Odyssey. Within the final stages of Kubrick’s classic, a Child is pictured within the embryonic sack, yet unborn, yet still able to witness the glory of Earth through open, unblinking eyes; depicting Dr. Bowman’s, and therefore man’s, rebirth within a new level of evolutionary transcendent intelligence and understanding.
Allow me to quickly draw the parallelism into view between Gravity and between 2001: A space Odyssey. It is unfair to compare the two, simply because of Gravity’s self-imposed limitations, and unique narcissistic depiction of itself, but I will highlight the intertextuality and intellectual theft that has taken place so as to more understand the films short-comings. Gravity is a recycle of messages, it has attempted to perpetuate aforementioned and already studied messages in a far shallower context, methodology and procedural undertaking; essentially it is unnecessary. It is attempting to discuss the new ‘Dawn of Man’, a different stage of evolutionary complexity imposed upon humankind once we venture out of our physical context and reach a new level of metaphysical understanding. It attempts to perpetuate this idea through the already filmic introduction of the notion of the ‘Space Child ‘, the metaphysical rebirth of humanity. This scene is clumsily and atrociously overtly shown, firstly during the discourse between Bullock and Clooney’s characters regarding her eye colour and their shallow, carnal attraction. Visually, it is most prominently shown during the scene in which Bullock boards the space craft after being adrift in space. She enters into the initial compression chamber, assumes a fetal position, and resembles an unborn child drifting as an embryo within the sonically subdued chamber of the womb, where nothing but dulled sound can permeate. The tubing within the chamber drifts into place so as to resemble the umbilical cord and the Earth can be depicted, glowing magnificently within the window behind. This is almost not even allegory it is so opaque, a ruse of intelligence and pseudo-allegory. Cuaron is simply spelling out his messages so there is no ambiguity for the audience to be confused within, Bullock is going through a transcendent state of rebirth to achieve a state of further consciousness; this form of storytelling is the direct influence of Hollywood upon a normally artistic director, I hope.
The primary reason this film is being compared to Kubrick’s ‘Odyssey’ is not because it is artistically or intellectually equivalent, but because it has consciously compared itself to that particular piece of cinema; as well as attempting to assimilate itself into this particular genre. It is made not in reverence of such a masterful embodiment of the science-fiction genre, but it is created in spite of it, attempting to incept and adopt its ideas into a far more visual narrative, one that lacks the ability to permeate as deep as it needs to within the human current psyche to establish the messages prevalent within ‘Odyssey’, and the messages Gravity attempts to discuss but simply cannot because of its self-imposed limitations; limitations that are consciously imposed, the messages sacrificed in lieu of a visual grandeur that is seemingly far more accessible to the primary cohort of the viewing public. And that is where and why it destroys itself, by attempting to be something it is not, and through this it becomes a shallow, gilded cinematic piece. It is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf, the simplest and weakest of narratives enshrouded in an envelope of visual mastery, shoved straight down the throat of anxious members of the general public. This film is not a case study of two individuals generating a relationship, pre and post death, and it is not a discourse of man’s ability to transcend ones physical bounds and earthly limitations. The only thing this film is, is a fantastic example of the progression of the visual media within an aesthetic sense, and as a fantastic example of the degenerate powers of group-think.