Gravity Alfonso Cuarón (USA 2013)

, 2013-11-27

Gravity Alfonso Cuarón (USA 2013) Sandra Bullock. George Clooney

viewed 12 Nov 13 Empire Cinema newcastle ticket £5:95

Gravity is the story of Ryan, a woman with a man's name. What was this about I wondered?

The long opening shot of Gravity establishes something of the qualitative nature of the space experience: its solitude. Out there you are alone. This opening shot is of very long duration. It carries us seamlessly from a long and distant vista of the space ship to a fluid series of close ups of Matt and Ryan, the two astronauts at work outside the ship. And beyond the two figures in space we see the Planet Earth, a vast presence, the source of life.

However I felt that the opening shot's length beyond a certain point became counter productive. It ends up simply drawing attention to itself as the director's self referential act of filmic narcissism. As it goes on and on and on, the shot delivers diminishing returns adding nothing to the movie. Instead the shot only draws attention to itself as an outer force unanchored in any premise. It is neither, point of view nor state of mind nor perception. It is a gaze; the gaze of a space tourist. The shot taken by the unseen Steadicam operator like an iphone snap for the Face Book page. It draws attention to the sender not the image. Wish you were here!

Cuaron's opening shot makes a statement about the film's form: rather than set up a situation. This is a Hollywood movie and we're here for the beer, to see what the camera's got on offer.

Cuaron having overindulged with his first shot sets in play and tests out relations, that like Ridley Scott's go beyond cosmic metaphysics. The scenario sets in play a series of propositions that relate to the social matrix. These propositions, are not be found in the million dollar surface of 3D digital FX that define the look of Gravity. Cuaron is no Kubrick able in one stroke to make cosmological connections through use of the pure image. Overall I found Gravity visually less compelling an experience than Kubrick's 2001. Even in 3D there is simply nothing in his film that remotely matches Kubrick's visionary realisations. Gravity to my eye lacked cinematographic edge, with the exception of one particular shot which connected directly to Gravity's underlying story.

The two protagonists Matt and Ryan spend most of the film in their spacesuits, which are quite different from swimsuits. Space suits are a complete protective carapace, worlds in their own right, the sequester the flesh. They are interfaces that remove the wearer from all direct contact physical contact and interaction. The suits are functional extensions of the body, designed for specific purposes. As mediaeval knights in heavy armour were effectively extensions of one function, combat; so Matt and Ryan in their astronaut suits are simply extensions of functions for surviving and working in space. In their spacesuits humans are machines, fit only for the functions of space. The most powerful scene in the film, Cuaron's coup de cinema, is when Ryan divests herself of her space suit. She strips it off like a burlesque performer, revealing her body and visually laying claim to possession of flesh and blood as a psychic reality. In shedding her carapace Ryan in fact affirms that she is a prisoner of the forces that have projected her into space. The space suit carries to the extreme the subjugation of being human to becoming machine. In space as in the large corporations that dominate earth machine precedes essence. As you look upon the worlds created by the the great IT corporations: Facebook, Google, Apple, this is a future, the large corporations envelope us as certainly as the space suit. Escape is ecstatic and exhilerating, but illusionary.

Gravity's narrative is simple: it's the old story of boy meets girl: Ryan meets Matt. A girl meets boy story which plays out in a very particular manner. Strapped into their spacesuits and seen through the camera lens, the girl and boy, are not so much characters as specimens. They are Cuaron's laboratory specimens. As if Gravity's plot line was a thought experiment, in which Cuaron extrapolates what is visible in contemporary human relations into the future. As experimenter Cuaron places the boy /girl diad in the bell jar of outer space, cut off from any external contact or communications. Like in a video game based on trail by ordeal, a set of purely functional tasks have to be completed for survival. Having locked in his specimens, Cuaron films and records the outcome.

In Gravity Cuaron has given his female specimen the male name of Ryan, whilst his male has the generic everyman name of Matt: Matt AnyMan of our times. Hi Matt.

We see that it is the nature of the space suit to be an integument defined by pure function. What happens when function precedes being. Much of the attention of Gravity's camera is focused on the consequences of the increasing masculinisation of the female. Or to put it another way, the subsumation of the female into the pure world of male function. Gravity, in the form of Ryan extrapolates a certain type of future. With her male name, her space suit that decouples sexuality and gender from identity, untethered from her biological drives which are but a memory, and required only to function or die, Ryan personifies the future of social relations. The course piloted by the female is not just that of non dependance on the male, but of the complete expendability of the male. And the male realises this. Male specimen Matt decoupling the lanyard clip that holds him to Ryan's umbilical cord realises the inevitability of the male destiny. It's Goobye Matt. Extinction and replacement by the masculinised female.

Working beyond this interesting but comic book experiment, there was a deeper idea I felt implicit in Gravity: the idea of isolation. The extent to which isolation both as a situation and a state of mind is an increasingly characteristic of contemporary society. Increasingly loneliness is becoming a default state and plotted onto a map of the future looks only to increase. Clamped into devices, wired into computers, strapped inside machines for living, we are alone. Functional physical extensions displace other areas of psychic space.

As a corollary we become happy to live by ourselves in a world defined by technological relations not human relations. Ryan the masculated woman exists outside human relations. She is without a prayer, using the radio as she drives home from work to anaesthetise herself and be ready for work next day. She has become a robot defined by function: a worker bee the sterile servant of a vast machine. Isolation is a characteristic feature suburban and corporate America, as the carapace of work becomes the defining feature of identity. And it is the extrapolation of the forces of isolation that lie at the heart of Gravity. Gazing at the mother planet, near but far off, spat out alone onto its surface Ryan is the future woman degendered by the disappearance of the male, isolated in her sex, occupying a virtual body within a machine.

When Ryan is catapulted back to mother earth she is alone: no one comes to her.

Adrin Neatrour