MIDWAY THROUGH THE FILM “Gravity,” one scene confirms that you’re watching a masterpiece: Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, alone in the Chinese space station Tiangong, starts to cry. And her tears, in zero gravity and 3D IMAX, float toward the audience. For just a moment, one of the drops strays farther into the theater than the others and the rest of the scene fades out of focus so that the tear, reflecting an image of Stone sobbing and alone, is inches away.
“Gravity” is composed of momentous scenes like this, scenes you remember long after you’ve left the theater. It’s not surprising. The movie is, after all, set in space with only three characters. It’s easy to get lost in the vast, computer-animated space that director Alfonso Cuarón creates. Entering the theater, you wonder whether you’re about to see objects flying at you in 3D for two hours, as the trailer suggests. But Cuarón creates a compelling character in Ryan Stone, who goes on her own spiritual journey thousands of miles from home.
Stone is a mission specialist on her first outing in space, the stiff and grating counterpart to Matt Kowalski, the smooth-talking veteran astronaut played by George Clooney, whose charisma draws you into the story when Bullock’s Stone is all helpless terror. They’re both on a routine mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope when debris flies at them from a Russian missile strike, killing one of the other astronauts and destroying the telescope. With communications in Houston down and Stone’s character running out of oxygen, the movie is off to a roaring start.
It’s Kowalski you root for at first, the character who would be fun to hang out with in a bar or in space. But this is Stone’s story. Kowalski is whom you like, but Stone is you, and every painstaking step of her journey is yours.
Sandra Bullock is convincing as the rookie paralyzed by fear – and as the steely professional propelling herself through space with a fire extinguisher. Cuarón draws her evolution with a careful hand. In the end, she is a woman reborn, and a character fundamentally transformed. ■