Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

It’s straightforward and simple.

If you haven’t seen the film ` Gravity’ yet, then see it.

Gravity is the sort of film that comes along once in a long while.

I found it remarkable for the following reasons:

So far, most movies about space that I have seen, fall into two categories.

There is the genre, which embraced the perception of space as science fiction fantasy. It told great stories set therein. The imagination, while bringing into play everything that humankind knew of space, stretched it a wee bit more, sometimes a lot more, for the heck of story. But these films were often far in excess of what our actual ventures into space have been. In these flights of fancy, human beings travelled through the solar system, hurtled through black holes and visited other galaxies, even as the farthest a human being ever got to, remained the moon. Cut to the other genre of being more realistic and telling stories within the realm of actual human exploration – we in India often felt left out because in tune with reality, all those stories had to be necessarily about foreigners at work; their sagas, their travails, their victories. A certain late astronaut called Shariff singing an Indian film song in orbit or George Clooney commenting on the beauty of a sunrise over the Ganges do nothing to stoke South Asian excitement for Gravity. The film worked because it was gutsy enough to keep space its real hero. At one stroke, it eliminated the petty divides inspired by human life on the planet and brought home a reality beyond the capacity of our different languages to describe. I felt, Gravity took the human being out of space and prepped us for a medium as it is.

Experiencing Alfonso Cuaron’s film was fantastic. There have been many films that exploited modern cinema’s technology to the hilt. A new sound system would come screaming in; a wide screen would be shown such that we are dwarfed to shifting in our seats for seeing it end-to-end. This film had no such agenda. Gravity’s opening sequence in a typical Mumbai theatre yet to stop chatting, reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s `Saving Private Ryan.’ That was the first film I saw, where the filmmaker, telling a story from the point of view of the soldier in battle, showed action all around with no sound. Such numbness happens in war; the film brought it home. After years used to Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens and the like, the abject silence of Gravity’s space took time getting used to. But once it gripped, you wanted it to remain so for you realized that unlike before, here, you were dealing with the real stuff. I wonder what the more mainstream filmmakers will do about space now that its silence has hit the theatres and the audience didn’t walk away! I also hope this will become a trend going ahead – a cleansing of big media experience to restore an experience of world that is greater than humanity’s media.

Not many films have succeeded in breathing its context into every frame as Gravity did. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography was calm and restless at once, weaving us in and out through twists and turns, for space is 360 degree-expanse on every axis.  It was like being in a washing machine and that is close enough but not fully accurate description. Finally, Gravity wasn’t without sound. Where required it had that and dialogue. In fact, it had music. Except – Steven Price’s music didn’t ever intrude. It stayed in the backdrop like a grinding saw of tension, picking up momentum as the film approached climax, which was most acceptable aesthetically for the climax was a descent to Earth and its environment, including capacity for sound. One day, maybe Cuaron or somebody else will show us the reverse – music petering out in tune with an ascent to space; a loud background score fading to stillness or receding to the very electronic sound of music in an astronaut’s earphones while space rules awesomely silent all around.

See Gravity; experience a shift in perspective.                                                   

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)               

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