I am not a fan of Sandra Bullock. She brings the same stirred up angst to almost every role, which almost always ends with yelling or being an aloof moron. Interestingly, Director Alfonso Caurón continued this trend in Gravity, and also cast his second lead under similar circumstances, with George Clooney playing a caricature of the George Clooney pretty much everybody loves, but especially my mom. Maybe the studio saw the film as a colossal risk, an economic expenditure with a risk of a low-yield, so they pushed the most traditional and wide-release friendly faces they could find into the title roles, front and center, to support the risk. That's been the narrative surrounding the film's production for years. The alternative, and this isn't mutually exclusive with the first option, is that Cuarón is a clever bugger and saw the persona of these two lead actors as essential to communicating some tricky ideas as simply as possible.
See, Cuarón is all about the simplest, cleanest, clearest way to present ideas. He resists the temptation to overcomplicate with ambiguous "heady" visual metaphors, or layered mind-bending plots. It's a brazenly unpretentious way to make a movie, and there's a recurring phrase the director keeps repeating in interviews: "Pure Cinema Language." I think I know what he means, and I'm pretty sure his approach to cinema is a blood relative to Hemingway's style in literature—simple, honest prose. In fact, swaths of critics have mistaken simplicity for shallowness, confusing the visceral totality of their experience with the absence of ideas supporting it. Instead, Gravity is an impossible juggling act of complex, contrasting ideas, vying for the limited space the film allows. Therein lies the true genius of the film, not with the effects, not with the digital camera work (both of which are utterly transcendent), but with how Cuarón merges multiple meanings into single symbols. This informed every possible layer of the production, including, of course, casting. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock both bring their acting personas front and center to the roles, with the warm folksy assurance of Clooney's Matt Kowalski pushing up against the contracting anxiety of Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone. Those traits are human, but like most things in this film, there's a crucial spiritual core guiding these elements of plot, direction, and character.
Kowalski never loses his cool, never loses control, and vitally, never removes himself from the present. He is there, and his past has reduced to a list of charming stories. In other words, he has achieved a state of bliss, where he experiences the moment as he experiences it. In Zen Buddhism, these traits would define him as a Shike, or in American pop culture, a "Zen Master." In Contrast, Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is in a perpetual state of loss, with her painful past always around the corner. The characters aren't the only thing used for multiple purposes, so enter, space: a limitless expanse lifting the weight of Earthly baggage into zero gravity, allowing Dr. Stone (and probably us viewers) a tranquility she hasn't ever experienced on Earth. She alludes to this feeling in the film, stating "the silence" of space is her favorite part of a space walk. This makes space is a metaphorical Nirvana or Heaven, and the debris, then, becomes the inevitable confrontation with the unwanted turns of life. Unless you are well equipped to rethink, adapt, and rapidly change trajectory with minor personal consequence, you'll wind up spinning into an endless void of nothingness.
These instances of change take the form of the vessels she has to fix, and the series of cliffhangers that punctuate these moments resemble our last ditch attempts to grab hold of any idea, any behavior, and indeed any person, that might make it okay. These represent several of a multitude of opposing forces coursing through Gravity. Yin and yang. When reflecting on the quantity (and quality) of allegory included in every frame of Gravity, it becomes clear Caurón pursues the question of existential survival every bit as much as its grandaddy 2001: A Space Odyssey did decades ago. With a similar breakthrough of technology that is probably the most poetic and complete use of computer effects to date, the synthesis of film form and film theory is a singular and beautiful experience demanding to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Life, death, rebirth, meditation, evolution, and catharsis— these are the contracting and expanding feelings breathed through the soul of a film destined to become an all time classic.