In the first ten minutes of "Gravity," as Sandra Bullock’s character drifts away from the camera and into open space, I felt something I had never felt before while in a movie theater. I felt utterly alone. Her heavy breathing began to fade away as she struggled to reach anyone before she was forever lost to the vast emptiness that surrounds our planet. As I watched her lose faith and slowly give up, the people and room around me disappeared, and I felt overcome by despair and hopelessness. This is a masterfully crafted film that truly knows how to pull you in.
"Gravity" centers on two astronauts who are caught off-guard by debris from an exploding Russian satellite while installing an upgrade to the Hubble Satellite. The debris rips through their shuttle, leaving only mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and medical technician Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) alive. The two are left drifting in space, barely tethered together as Stone’s oxygen supply runs dangerously low. Their only hope is to use Kowalski’s jet pack to fly to a nearby Russian space station and, hopefully, find a way back to Earth from there.
The movie maintains an extremely tense atmosphere throughout. This is in no small part due to the fantastic sound editing and mixing. The film leaps between claustrophobic, heavy breathing from inside astronauts’ helmets to intense, vast silence as they drift through space. This silence is one factor that makes the movie so immersive and terrifying. There is no solace in silence. It is in the film's quietest moments that the most dangerous events occur. In an eerie absence of sound, debris rips explosively through the space station and astronauts rebound off the surfaces they are struggling to grab ahold of.
These shots are made all the more intense by the incredible cinematography, which often utilizes first-person and artfully employs 3D. There was never a moment in the film where the 3D felt gimmicky or obtrusive; instead, it subtly added to the atmosphere. And, of course, Bullock and Clooney anchor the film with excellent personal acting. With any less-talented actors, this film would have floundered and failed. Here, much like Ryan Reynolds in the claustrophobic "Buried," Bullock and Clooney carry the film, deftly handling the intense closeup scenes of terror as well as the nail-biting action sequences.
Ultimately, despite the flashy survival drama exterior, this is a movie about individuals' morals, emotions and wills to survive. The fact that director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón managed to balance these two conflicting ideas is somewhat of a miracle. He has crafted a masterpiece and model for future films in terms of atmosphere, pacing, effects and writing. This is what a film should be.