Monthly Archives: November 2013

  • Gravity Alfonso Cuarón (USA 2013)

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    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