The recent accolades thrown Gravity‘s way in the wake of its Academy Award nominations is almost as incongruous as acknowledging the fact that Alfonso Cuarón directed A Little Princess. The Mexican (it somehow sounds derogatory to call someone Mexican–or is it just me?) born director has had a swift come-up since his first English language feature in 1995. Three years later, Great Expectations would elevate him to A-list director status. It seemed that this pressure was too great for him to bear, which could be, in part, why he chose to wait until 2001 to release the masterpiece that is Y Tu Mamá También (arguably a film he will never top). His career enjoyed both commercial (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and artistic (Children of Men) success after this movie came out. But with Gravity, there is an air of the forced, the contrived–the pandering to entities like the Academy.
Taking on an Orson Welles-like role as director, writer, editor and producer, Cuarón loses himself in the business of moviemaking, rather than the art of it. The “spiritual” message of Gravity is also on overkill mode, particularly as Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) has some sort of religious epiphany while trapped inside one of many space capsules she seeks refuge in during the period in which she’s lost in space. The very term “lost in space” also connotes a certain metaphysical aspect as Cuarón does his best to display that there is meaning and interconnectedness in this massive and chaotic universe. It’s the kind of shit the Academy gobbles with a jewel-encrusted spoon.
And then there is the referential nature of Gravity to consider. Culling from classic sci-fi films like Alien, the movie’s true identity lies in not really having one. Emphasizing the notion that no matter how much you plan for something, some element of the universe will invariably fuck you over, Gravity none too subtly accents that no one is truly in control of his or her destiny. All we can do is try our best to work around it.
Apart from the unwanted reminder that nothing makes any sense, there is also the stress element of Gravity to consider. Other films that were nominated for an Oscar this year didn’t feel the need to induce quite this level of anxiety. And aren’t movies supposed to relieve our anxiety or, at the bare minimum, not be the cause of it? Cuarón could have at least illuminated a way of life to empathize or identify with. But then, free-falling through space is eerily a lot like everyday existence. Be that as it many, watching Sandra Bullock hyperventilate does not an Oscar frenzy warrant.