***SPOILERS ABOUND***. This is not a post for people who have yet to see the film, except for the final paragraph, which is safe.
DOES THIS FILM ANNOY A FEMINIST?
There has already been quite a bit of feminist commentary on this film, partly because there are so few action films with female protagonists, and also — unusually — for the billing. This is from Aaron Ricciardi writing at Huffington:
Here’s why I’m livid: Gravity has a cast of two actors, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. This is just a guess, but I’d say that Mr. Clooney is only on screen for about twenty minutes. Ms. Bullock, on the other hand, is never not on screen. She is the movie. So why, may I ask, does every piece of marketing material for a movie which pretty much features one actor and no one else for its entire ninety-minute running time look like this?:
SANDRA BULLOCK GEORGE CLOONEY
Now, if the billing for Cast Away was laid out in the same way that Gravity‘s is, it would have looked like this:
TOM HANKS HELEN HUNT
Apart from the layout of the credits, I found other minor annoyances with this film.
1. The romantic banter between the Sandra Bullock character and the George Clooney character felt tacked on. If I were an X-Files shipper, I’d definitely be in the anti-romance camp. I don’t happen to think that every single story needs a romantic subplot, and this one certainly didn’t. The romantic subplot is that after George Clooney floats away, he asks Sandra Bullock to confess that she finds him attractive. Not much of a romance, admittedly, but it comes after flirtation and banter. The reason I’m disappointed in this is because women deserve to work in their chosen professions without necessarily being the object of banter from older male colleagues — in real life as in fiction. Likewise, women deserve to watch a scientist go about her work without that interference, even if it is George Clooney. Especially if it is George Clooney. Don’t the scriptwriters realise that had Bullock and Clooney remained professional with each other that this was the way to be cutting-edge? I’m sure that there are plenty of fans who like this in a storyline, but the problem is — for those of us who don’t — there is no reprieve.
2. In this story, with the experienced older man and the younger (though middle-aged) female engineer, the age and experience differential is supposed to justify the fact that all throughout the action, it’s Sandra Bullock who screams and panics, while the George Clooney character is affable, calm, collected and saves the woman to sacrifice his own life. IT COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
…there was absolutely no reason for Clooney to sacrifice himself!!! Once Sandra caught him, he would be just floating there. A small tug on his tether would send him back to the space station. And as my wife put it, when you have a hold of George Clooney, only an idiot would let him go.
- What Does A Real Astronaut Think Of Gravity?
3. There seems to be a rule and the rule is this: If a female stars on screen and she is good looking (when is she not, in Hollywood?) the audience must see what her body looks like. In this film both characters are dressed in shapeless moon suits. We only ever see Clooney’s face. But when Bullock returns to the safety of a spacecraft she removes her moon suit and there follows an extended scene in which she lies suspended in the room in partially fetal position. The audience just so happens to get many chances for the eyes to linger upon Bullock’s lithe musculature. One argument is that the disrobing is a part of the story. This is true. My question is: Do astronauts wear boy-leg underpants under their moon suits? I honestly don’t know. If roles had been reversed and George Clooney’s character was the one to make it back to the ship, would we have seen him in his underdaks? While Clooney and others have made their fame based on a certain amount of objectification, as has Bullock, I think an audience would have been surprised to find a male astronaut only wore underpants under a moon suit. I would expect a long-john type of garment, given the weather conditions of space. Therefore, the partial dress of the female character in Gravity feels gratuitous.
Also, how was Clooney going to beat Anatoly’s space walk record if astronauts apparently don’t wear either a diaper or a cooling garment under their spacesuits? That would be one smelly suit. Although I have to admit, that Sandra Bullock looked much sexier in her tank-top and boy shorts than I did when I took off my spacesuit.
- What Does A Real Astronaut Think Of Gravity?
DOES IT PASS THE BECHDEL TEST?
The Bechdel test sometimes needs a little modification, with commonsense applied depending on the film, and Gravity is no exception. In its most literal interpretation Gravity could never pass the test because there is only one female character and it is therefore impossible that two female characters exist who talk to each other.
However, there is a scene which violates the spirt of the Bechdel Test. I’m talking about the hallucination in which Clooney miraculously comes back to the cockpit to tell Bullock how to start a spaceship which is out of fuel. Clooney delivers an inspiring lecture just at the point where Bullock is about to give up. In fact, she has already lain down to die. Clooney’s character not only talks about technical aspects of driving the ship (his speciality and therefore appropriate to the story) but also gives Bullock’s character a personal life lesson which brooches the topic of her dead daughter.
I realise this is an hallucination scene, but in the context of fiction, it’s all made up, so I will ignore this point when I categorise this speech as ‘a man giving sage advice to a woman’. The ‘Fairy Godmother’ moment was delivered by a know-it-all man, even though ‘it didn’t really’.
AND IS IT ANY GOOD?
Yes, it’s excellent. Floating free in space would be one of my greatest fears — though fortunately for me it’s not one that interferes with everyday life — and the pacing, the special effects and the non-romance related dialogue are excellent. It begins and ends in a good place. My heart was pounding the entire time. If you’re after a rise in blood pressure, this is the film for you, even if you’re not typically a fan of action films.
If you’ve been looking forward to the rare Hollywood film in which an intelligent woman gets to save the day, you may be disappointed.