secunduszephyrus asked: Darn, you deleted your post before I got a chance to respond to it! But anyway it was great discussing this, thanks!
Well first off, its fun debating someone who really cares about film, and has fully formed opinions to go along with it. I apologize if I come off judgemental, that’s not my goal, however, I cannot apologize for saying that you must change your background wallpaper, it was impossible to read your writing, which was really well done. Now to Gravity:
What we’re discussing here isn’t necessarily form, its more existentialism; I’ll explain.
It’s interesting that you brought up Blair Witch Project, because I can see how you would equate it with Gravity; I remember when it came out how people had a similar response; ‘It was disorientating and unbalancing, it made me nauseous, and that’s what true horror is.’ I think that you made a similar argument with Gravity when you wrote: “yes they are just victims, but isn’t that basically what life is?" Existentialism.
This type of film criticism disappoints me because it shows an appreciation for that which cannot be rationalized. You asked isn’t being a victim basically what life is; I must respond; well then what does it matter whether we live or die, or if we’re interesting, or what our fate is. I take issue with films and directors who believe their films are above their characters, and could care less if they’re interesting.
Blair Witch Project could laugh at itself, it was satirical, almost cheerfully scary, it was fun trash. Gravity is just expensive trash, with up to date technology. And when you wrote; “[Gravity] as the most primal and emotional story that can be told!" what I feel you’re responding to a trapped plot, Cuaron doesn’t want Bullock to arrive to safely till the end, he won’t let her get out, she must stay put, till he can take advantage of all his camera trickery, this is story paralysis.
It’s easy to label plots with minimal development as ‘primal,’ because they don’t feel superior to us. We celebrate stupidity, and amateurish writing like Gravity because it allows us to stop thinking, we don’t have to connect (possibly we absorb differently, if not more, since we turn off our brain). There’s a lot of physical action, but nothing’s happening. What you’re experiencing is only sensation, not logic; cinematic shock treatment.
What Gravity is lacking is cause and effect, implication, the unravelling of a script in such a way as to produce terror. You are rewarding lack of narrative structure. And it’s easy to confuse Gravity’s lack of complexity as having grander meaning. We must ask ourself what the central message in Gravity was; that in order to move ahead, Bullock must forget her past, even her own child, to survive. You described Gravity as ‘emotional,’ but it is really the antithesis to that.
Cuaron requires Bullock to extinguish the memory of her daughter, his script is above humanity and emotion. He’s producing a new vision of strength, in which we must forget our loved ones, and worship technology. And not only is Bullock computerized, but so are the visuals, at times it feels as if the technology used to film Gravity had more importance than the story. Gravity feels like a monumental visual endeavour, however, it’s completely unimaginative.
The biggest problem with Gravity is that’s its more about the technique used to create the art, not the art itself. And if we reward films for this, then we’re saying that production values are more important than the poetry realized.
And what frustrates me is that I know Gravity will one day be taught in film classrooms, hailed as a masterpiece, but when the visuals lack a commentary on the subject, and are the point itself, we are missing art’s greatest quality; expressivity.
There’s a key difference between a work of art that conveys the emotions of its subject; and another in which we simply react to it’s technique. Only one is connecting. The best works of art make technique and subject inseparable.
My background! Thank you for the tip. That was the first time I have ever posted text on my tumblr, so it had never been a problem before. However, at the moment I really like that background, so I’ll have to find a new theme that can let me have the background as well as readability. For now I’ll make the text white.
I think we are getting to the root of our disagreement! Certainly it is not simply about Gravity, but about what the nature of cinema means to each of us. And perhaps that falls under the definition of existentialism, as you suggested.
If I may oversimplify the major difference that I see, it is that you seem to believe that all elements of the film (characters, editing, cinematography, etc) must serve the story, whereas I believe all elements (characters, editing, cinematography, and story) must serve the film. Now that probably sounds like a fancy play on words, but let me explain what I mean. Film is a visual medium, and it is intrinsically unique compared to other media before it. It incorporates elements from very old traditions of theatre, painting, sculpture, dance, and music, but it is not any single one of those things. The first example that comes to mind is the Kuleshov Effect, which is a storytelling technique unique to film. In my opinion, cinema is at its best when it is expressing in a way that no other medium ever could. Many of my favorite films immediately come to mind: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Mulholland Drive; Run, Lola, Run. These are movies that are so deeply rooted in the very fabric of cinema that it’s difficult to even explain what they are “about” to people who don’t understand film jargon.
I also include Blair Witch Project in that list. Humans have certainly been telling ghost stories orally for millennia, but this film brings it to a different level. The second lesson we can learn from the Kuleshov Effect is that film is a medium that is created in each of our minds. A picture of an expressionless man and a picture of a bowl of soup mean very little individually, and it is our minds that make a connection between the two and infer that the man must be hungry. Blair Witch Project took advantage of this phenomenon in a way no one had ever imagined before. It expressed terror in a deeply psychological way that no other medium can. It’s not trash; it’s a celebration of what cinema is, and how much of its power is yet to be discovered.
To me, calling the script of Gravity stupid and amateurish (while I believe it is neither) is missing the point of the film. The film is about loneliness, the depth of space, the insignificance of man, the instinct to survive, and the human condition of getting caught up on the past. You couldn’t compose a song, write a play, or paint a picture that expresses all these ideas. And the story is just another element that serves to express these ideas.
Think about other media. The Mona Lisa is considered a great painting, what’s the story behind that? The Rite of Spring is considered one of the most important pieces of music from the 20th century, and it is simply about a primal ritual. Waiting for Godot doesn’t have most of the elements of a traditional story; the characters just speak nonsense to one another. These works of art are about expression first, so why must film be any different?
Logic is not necessary in art!
"…when visuals lack a commentary on the subject, and are the point itself, we are missing art’s greatest quality; expressivity." Again, by that logic any music without lyrics lacks expression, as does any painting that doesn’t have a story behind it. Expression is about emotions, not about story. And I certainly felt many emotions during Gravity. They were not nausea or jolting, as you reported, but rather loneliness, stillness, disorientation, awe, excitement, fear, anxiety, empathy, relief, and so much more.
Your last line is the most puzzling to me. I feel that this is the perfect example of technique and subject being inseparable. You couldn’t tell this story and express these emotions without the techniques used, and that’s precisely why it’s never been told before! Only now that we have the technology to execute these techniques do we have the ability to tell a story about zero-gravity. If you used this technique to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet, it wouldn’t work. The technique and subject are completely intertwined.
Now that I’ve typed all that, I think I understand what you mean about our existential differences. I often find logic and thinking in art boring, and seek out illogical, visceral art. Perhaps that’s because I am naturally a very logical person, and I crave a way to experience the world through the mind of someone else.
Wow. I never thought I could have had so many self-discoveries talking with someone on tumblr! Thank you!
secunduszephyrus asked: So I just read your review of Gravity and I must say I wholeheartedly disagree. I think the story is what holds the whole film together, and that Sandra Bullock's performance was amazing. Also, I think that you might have been confused: Alejandro Iñárritu had nothing to do with this movie besides a special thanks credit. It was directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Hey, I appreciate your message, I find that this is an extremely controversial film, you’re not the only one who’s responded to my post. My friends were quick to point out that I’d confused Inarritu and Cuaron right away, but I’ve made it a rule to not edit my posts after the fact, its sort’ve dishonest. Now, let’s put Bullock’s performance aside for a moment, to Gravity's story:
Gravity's story seemed very one dimensional to me, there's no timing, mood or contrast, by which I mean no expressivity to its goal. It is strictly about having one near death scene following the next. We understand the plot immediately, and that the characters have no relation to it, they're just victims.
Therefore the effect Gravity has is extremely simple, and only derived from its floating camera technique, there are no other layers. Cuaron spins the camera around for an hour and half while Bullock tries to hold on by her fingertips, but this is sort’ve an abrasive suspense, because space is already ominous and full of tension without it.
It doesn’t take a brilliant artist to make this kind of action, you just have to be technically competent. Because his technique and method has no commentary on the work, it stands by itself. There is no purpose to Gravity, there’s nothing to think about afterwards, just the cleverness of how he filmed it, the spinning, long shots.
If you ever do reflect on it, you’ll realize that there’s no reason as to why Bullock’s character was a medical engineer; or why the backstory of her daughter’s death is tacked on. Possibly its just to make Bullock seem helpless, thus creating more chances for Cuaron to film his near death scenes. But there’s no payoff to her daughter’s story.
Listen to her dialogue and you can learn the pettiness of this film, she’s always unsure of herself and barely cognizant. The more weak and incapable she acts, the more we’re supposed to worry about her. She has no personality, no personal traits, no style, no feelings.
The only thing Gravity has conviction in, is to make its audience nearly sick and give them jolts, and it’s easy to mistake our response to this as great art. It’s merely technique with no expressivity; it’s trash.
Wow, thanks for the awesome reply! I nodded my head as I read most of what you had to say, but all these things you list as negatives, I see as positives. Yes, we understand the characters immediately, and yes they are just victims, but isn’t that basically what life is? We each see ourselves as victims of the endless chains of evens that form our lives. You say that the film is just one near death scene after another as if it’s not really a story, but I see that as the most primal and emotional story that can be told!
However, I do believe there is another layer there. Yes, I agree that the backstory with her daughter seems a tiny bit forced at first, but as the movie continued, I realized that it was a story about Bullock’s character coming to terms with death—not just her own death, but also that of her daughter. As for why she’s a medical engineer, it does seem a random choice, but I think that the fact that she’s not a “professional astronaut” gives the audience the opportunity to connect with her struggle. If I were in her situation, I wouldn’t be able to rely on extensive knowledge of all the systems of the spacecrafts, I would mostly have to rely on quick-wits, luck, and the tiny bit of training.
Yes, her character is unsure—that is the point! The thought of death terrifies her, and all she can think about is her daughter. I think that is the reason she focused so much on having to let go of Kowalski: because she was reliving the death of her daughter and the helplessness she had felt before. She describes the cause of the death of her daughter as “the stupidest thing”, and that is parallel to the situation she is in. Exploring space is a very dangerous endeavor, but for that reason, everyone is very very careful about it. To date, no human has ever died in space. The fact that the Russians would blow up a satellite like that is also the stupidest thing, but one which she has the opportunity to escape from. (As for whether it’s believable that the Russians would do that in the first place, I’m not sure. I would say probably not because NASA has very good communication with the Russian space program. Perhaps the Chinese destroying a satellite like that would be more believable? But I don’t know enough about the politics of space exploration to say.)
Oops, I went off on a bit of a tangent. Anyway, her character comes close enough to death to trigger that hallucination scene, which makes her realize that the best thing she can do about her daughter’s death is to realize the value of her own life. After that transformation, her character is confident and not afraid of the consequences of attempting re-entry.
Hm. Having written all that, I realize now that her journey perfectly fits the orphan/wanderer/warrior/martyr archetypes. I agree that she doesn’t have a strong personality, or a unique personality, but she definitely has one. The fact that she tried to finish her work before heading into the space shuttle in the beginning tells us a lot about her, as does the fact that she continues talking to the man on the radio even after she learns that he can do nothing to save her.
I think the film is about a lot more than technique. It is about death and fear, the strongest emotion we can have. It’s about loneliness. And hopelessness. As I reflect on the film, Blair Witch Project keeps coming to mind. It’s another film that is about fear and experimented with a new technique. Perhaps some could argue that it’s the technique that makes Blair Witch Project so effective and deeply emotional, but I believe it is the way the story is told and the way I am able to feel like I am experiencing what the characters are going through. In both examples, the technique goes hand-in-hand with the storytelling; it is not some relish that is added on top.
Well now I’ve written a lot, and it is very late. I’d love to hear your reaction to this. Writing this out has helped me solidify my opinions on the film and why I liked it so much. Thanks!