Gravity Alfonso Cuarón (USA 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

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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