Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is set to premier in theaters this winter. It is Cuarón’s first time directing since Children of Men six years ago, although Cuarón has been involved in multiple projects since (he produced the incredibly depressing and wonderful Biutiful starring Javier Bardem two years ago). Most sources online are describing Gravity as Cuarón’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially since multiple sources claim the film has a continuous 17 minute shot as its opener, Sandra Bullock appears alone for the majority of the film (much like Kier Dullea in 2001) and it is about a disaster in space.
Knowing Cuarón’s style, especially after watching Children of Men repeatedly, I doubt he is trying to emulate Kubrick. I am certain Gravity will borrow from 2001, especially the anxiety and imprisonment Kubrick creates, yet that does not mean Cuarón will emulate the deceased cinema master’s voice, creating a knock-off one of science fiction’s most important films. Instead I am confident Cuarón will create something new, something fresh and contemporary which will captivate audiences. Then again, I am also skeptical that a film with primarily one character will do anything but bore people to death. Remember, American audiences are fickle—sometimes they want a two to three hour movie (The Avengers shattered box office records this weekend and people saw Titanic repeatedly in the theaters 15 years ago) and sometimes they dismiss them as boring and stupid. It remains to be seen whether Americans flock to theaters for what sounds like an existential sci-fi film.
Warner Brothers, the film’s distributor, is touting Gravity as 3-D eye candy, selling Cuarón as a “visionary” director. Usually that is not true but in Cuarón’s case it is. Children of Men, Cuarón’s 2006 science fiction piece about a world where everybody is infertile and the human race is dying, changed the way many look at dystopian science fiction. Instead of incorporating flying cars or excessively futuristic technology, Children of Men looks like now. Right now. There are subtle differences—the cars look a little more advanced (yet run down)—but the advertisements, especially those outside of many subway stations or crowding up Times Square in New York City, already resemble Children of Men.
But Cuarón never fully intended Children of Men to predict the future; instead he wanted it to analyze the present, making people think about contemporary issues: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the treatment of immigrants in the United States and elsewhere, Guantanamo Bay and so forth. Even the notorious cultural critic and theorist Slavoj Žižek writes that Children of Men does “not point toward alternate reality,” but instead makes “reality more what it already is.” It makes us look in a mirror, examining our imperfections under a light we are unaccustomed to. That is what good science fiction does, it makes us look at the world through a different lens and bring back something about ourselves and/or the world we live in that we did not see previously.
Artistically, Gravity is said to take the extended single shots Cuarón did in Children of Men and bring it to a whole new level. Sandy Schaefer’s article on Screen Rant claims: “the film as a whole runs for about two hours and has only 156 shots total (i.e. around 46 seconds/shot, on average), including several that run ‘six, eight, 10 minutes long.’” While this technique has been incorporated into contemporary cinema as of late I doubt it’ll bring the intensity Cuarón captured in Children of Men. Here is an example:
That is only the opening scene of Children of Men and it features only one cut. The later scenes, of which the longest is well over seven minutes, is much more intense. If Cuarón can bring this level of intensity to Gravity I am certain it will be the best film of 2012…even with Sandra Bullock in the lead role.
Here is the teaser trailer for Gravity: