Sandra Bullock delivers an absolutely astounding performance in 2013’s Gravity, a dramatic survivalist tale following Bullock’s character Dr. Ryan Stone. Stone is on her first mission as an astronaut, along with a group of more experienced professionals. Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut, acts as her guide during this new experience for Stone. Yet, Kowalski will soon need to be more than just a teacher.
As the team of astronauts performs repairs on a space apparatus, the worst imaginable situation arises. As a Russian missile is launched from an orbiting satellite, this instrument is knocked off its path of trajectory. A chain reaction ensues, creating a violent storm of debris hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour. When this blast reaches the astronaut team, mass destruction occurs. This scene is remarkable to the senses of sight and sound. The audience sees this devastating collision, but hears no sound besides the musical score. At the film’s opening, text appears on the screen, describing that there is nothing to carry sound in the vacuum of space. This was ingenious foreshadowing, as sound would play a huge role throughout the film. The contrast between viewing the intense carnage and hearing nothing audibly makes for a memorable cinematic situation.
After all the wreckage had cleared, Stone and Kowalski realized that they were the only survivors from their crew. This story exemplifies a variety of character conflicts. The space storm set off by a missile launch represents a Man vs. Machine conflict, as the astronauts were faced with the associated negative effects. As Stone and Kowalski discovered the devastating truth that they were alone in space, we see them struggle mentally and physically on many levels. They are completely on their own, having lost all communication with Earth. While they have devoted a lot of time to training for this environment, they never expected to be forced to survive in space independently (Man vs. Nature, Man vs. The Unknown). Yet, they have no alternative. They can either show tremendous resolve and determination by doing everything they can to survive, or they can take the easy route, giving in to their impossible situation by letting go of life (Man vs. Himself).
In regard to this film’s emotional connection with the audience, there were many cinematic elements that successfully created this bridge. Most prominently, Bullock’s raw acting performance was stellar. As the viewers, we felt her anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and sadness. The music score by Steven Price contributed to this emotional impact as well. In the completely silent setting of space, Price’s music builds tension and suspense during appropriate scenes. With only two main characters in Stone and Kowalski, dialogue’s significance was based on quality, not quantity. The connection between these two astronauts was incredibly relatable to the everyday person. The audience sees this unimaginable situation that Stone and Kowalski find themselves in, but they have recognizable characteristics and personalities that are comparable to normal people in typical, routine life. We also see their determination and will to survive. The resilience of the human spirit is a heavily focused on aspect of this story. With enough courage, boldness, and sacrifice, life finds a way.
Yet, there were even more cinematic aspects of this film that created a link with the audience. Another component that stands out was the masterful, intricate camera work. There were many scenes that used one camera for extended periods of time. For instance, as Stone and Kowalski floated around aimlessly in space, a singular camera was trained on them in the vast emptiness. In other shots, we were given first-person point-of-view angles of Stone. The viewers directly perceived what Stone saw through her eyes. From the outstanding acting, to the polished music score, to the superior camerawork, Gravity had a remarkable effect on the audience.
Sandra Bullock’s skillfulness in her profession is once again personified in Gravity. She often takes roles that portray a female as the primary antagonist, and this film certainly represents this specialty of Bullock’s. While George Clooney’s Matthew Kowalski has a significant part in Gravity, it pales in comparison to Dr. Ryan Stone’s character. She is without a doubt the focal point of the story, and her convincing performance ensures the success of this film. Another factor of this film in relation to Bullock’s career that must be touched upon is Dr. Stone’s relationship with Kowalski. Bullock often stars in romantic comedies, corresponding with a male counterpart. In Gravity, we see Bullock’s character work together with a member of the opposite sex, similar to her rom-coms. Although it is in a much different environment, this parallel is plainly seen. Finally, in looking at Bullock’s performance, it is important to point out her character’s personality. Dr. Stone is a very awkward person by nature, who finds herself in an extraordinary situation. This is very reminiscent of multiple roles throughout Bullock’s career. Her tenure as an actor has been lengthy and prosperous, thanks to her charm, grace, and understandable nature. As she incorporates all of these skills into Gravity, combined with the other awe-inspiring cinematic elements, this film earns an “A” grade from me.