Last weekend I finally saw Gravity: a wacky romantic comedy set in space. Minus the “wacky,” “romantic,” and “comedy” bits. The movie is set in space, though.
First, let’s get this out of the way—I really liked Gravity. It was visually breathtaking, excellently acted, accompanied by a fantastic musical score, and very well paced. Does it live up to the insane hype? Probably not, but it comes really close.
But I’m not here to review Gravity. That would call for an objective, thorough, and well-thought-out post. I can’t deliver on any of those descriptors. I have the patience of a person who is something something analogy whatever, let’s get on with this already.
What I found most jarring about the movie is the transparent and heavy-handed attempt at giving characters extra dimensions.
*Minor spoiler* A few minutes into the movie we’re shown a recently deceased side-character. His helmet is smashed and half of his face is missing. So, yeah, definitely dead. Then, floating next to him, we see a laminated photo of him and his family back on Earth. The camera lingers on their smiling faces, while we let out a collective “What? People in space have families back home? They are just like us!”
Note: up until that point the character’s main contribution to the movie consisted mostly of a silly space dance and riveting monologue of the “Woo-hoooo!” variety.
My first thought upon seeing his lifeless body was “So sad. Poor bastard.”
Immediately after the laminated picture floated into my vision, I updated that to “So sad. Poor bastard. What the hell is a laminated picture of his family doing outside his space suit? Isn’t that a safety risk?!”
Look, I get it—he’s a real person with a real life. I can deduce that on my own, because he looks decidedly human. I am also automatically wired to care about the plight of my fellow humans. I don’t need a condescending visual telling me to care. Well, at least we avoided a slow-motion, black-and-white flashback of the guy playing catch with his son.
At a later stage, the following dialogue takes place between George Clooney’s and Sandra Bullock’s characters:
GEORGE: Tell me more about yourself. Are you a likeable human being that we can relate to?
SANDRA: Yes, I am indeed a human being with a complex backstory. You should care deeply about my feelings and my traumatic past.
GEORGE: Thank you for confirming your “human” status. I now care more about you and your emotions. I think our viewers should, too. *breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience a conspirational wink*
No, that’s not the actual dialogue. You get the point, though.
I have two issues with this.
One, it’s unnecessary. This ham-fisted character backstory has no place in what is otherwise a well-made, edge-of-your-seat thriller. I don’t need extra prodding to care about the fate of Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock’s character). All of us can relate to the terror and claustrophobia of being trapped in space. The movie does a great job of giving us the feeling of “being there.” It’s mostly irrelevant what Dr. Stone’s life is like back on Earth. I don’t care if she likes wearing hats made of teddy bears and participates in darkly disturbing drama performances. I am living in her “now”—and one hell of a stressful “now” at that.
Two, if you insist on adding this human dimension, do it right. Don’t patronize me into caring by telling me “Here, this is why this character is more than just a number.” If you want me to care, get me invested in the character’s fate. Make me witness them overcoming challenges and growing as people. Let me experience their pain at the time it happens. But don’t plop a 10-page “personal history” report into my hands and leave it at that. Otherwise, you end up with an obviously out-of-place, almost pointless verbal exposition.
Worst of all, every one of these attempts at creating emotional connections stuck out like a sore thumb. And you know what they say about sore thumbs in space…something, I’m sure. These moments dragged me out of the immersion. That’s not something you want in a movie that’s literally filmed using the “point-of-view” technique at some points.
Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe I am forever cursed to pick on minor flaws and blow them out of proportion. Maybe that’s all because of that one time when I was five years old and that bad man stole my ice-cream and my mother told me that the world isn’t perfect and there will always be people out there who want to hurt you, no matter how good you are. My mother had dark brown hair and spoke in a soft, soothing voice. She still does. I have fond memories of my childhood. I, too, am three-dimensional.
To conclude: Gravity is a great movie. Go watch it!