Sometimes movie fans can be a big disappointment. I thoroughly enjoyed the film “Gravity” with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney for a lot of reasons: likeable stars, great visuals (especially a truly toned Bullock in her astronaut underwear), a tension-filled story and most importantly a moving emotional evolution for a female character. Most of the film reviews were actually positive. However movie-goer comments have been obtuse at best but more truthfully they’ve been sexist.
The story is of an accomplished scientist (Bullock) on her first trip into space after hurried astronaut training so she can put her equipment in place on a space station where the info it gathers will be monitored. Her grizzled, veteran astronaut partner (Clooney) is both jocular and a good leader. As things evolve, of courses, disaster hits in the shape of dangerous random debris hurtling through space that kills the rest of their crew and leaves the two astronauts fighting for their lives and cut off from communication with NASA.
The ingenuity and courage of Bullock’s character kicks in and we learn she’s overcoming not just her freshman status in space but her own emotional tragedy that has left her shut down and unable to move. The tragedy she’s experienced is devastating and the metaphor of her journey back to herself is simple. The tests she meets in the journey are larger than life because she’s in space but the way she responds is a reflection of the woman she has been in the past and can be again.
Clooney gets to be the character he does best: playful, solid, somewhat cynical (his biggest hope on this space trip is to break the record for time spent outside his ship!). But part of this characterization is his seriousness as a scientist and his belief in his partner. When do you get to see a man be supportive of a woman for other than the purpose of scoring?
Moviegoers major complaint has been that the Bullock character’s struggle is too small…a sad mother…ho hum. I found that infuriating! Why does a woman’s tragedy seem small to others…even other women? Why doesn’t a woman’s story deserve to be seen in the context of a larger world?
Any good story whether it takes place in a closet or outer space is about the emotional lives of the characters. Bullock is brilliant at portraying interior anxiety as well as the emergence of resolve and a peaceful resignation…sometimes all in the same moment. And most of the time you can only see her eyes!
The special effects are magnificent…weightlessness…astronauts in free fall…crumbling space structures…deadly debris hurtling silently at vulnerable astronauts! The most amazing fact is that the effects don’t overwhelm the human story. I was mesmerized by the visual beauty of earth seen from afar but still able to feel the ache of the woman looking down and knowing she might never see earth again.
But this is not the film Apollo 13, which is about the technology of survival. It was a great adventure, done well. But it wasn’t about the crew as people. They were not so much fathers or lovers as they were MEN, writ large doing their jobs.
Gravity is a different story. How do you weigh sadness? How do you move through space (actual or emotional) when there is a vacuum? Is simply moving forward important or how does it help to move toward something? Why shouldn’t a woman’s story carry these philosophical questions?
Misogyny is so deeply ingrained in our culture people don’t even know when they’ve got the disease. I can think of a few small stories—men’s stories—that were carried by big movies and nobody complained. I could start with the iconic “Citizen Kane.” It’s a groundbreaking, sprawling epic about a legendary tycoon which is, at its heart, about an emotionally neglected little boy who spends his life making up for his loss. That emotional core is part of why it’s brilliant.
Then there’s Moby Dick. A guy obsessed with getting revenge on a whale? Oh please! He should have gone fishing!