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In the new science fiction film Gravity, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space shuttle mission. With her coworkers, including George Clooney as fellow astronaut Matthew Kowalski, she is almost as chilly as the space outside her helmet—in spite of Kowalski’s smooth-talking, rather unprofessional comments. They are finishing up their last spacewalk when disaster strikes. Russia has blown up one of its own satellites in an attempt to test an anti-satellite missile, and the resulting debris is intersecting with the shuttle’s orbit. The debris destroys the shuttle and leaves them stranded in space, but there’s a chance for survival.

In spite of its cold beauty, outer space is barren and lonely. Astronauts move about tethered to umbilical cords that are their only hope for survival, emphasizing the frailty of human beings and our dependence on the world God created for us. Meanwhile the glowing visuals of Earth, breathtaking and inviting, beckon the astronauts back to the place they belong. Seeing this film might do for future space travelers what Jaws did for new swimmers.

Bullock’s performance is strong, even though her weakly written role leaves viewers to wonder a couple of times, particularly in the beginning, why she was permitted to board the shuttle in the first place. That strong acting is vital since she is alone onscreen for a good bit of the movie. You’ll likely be hyperventilating or gasping for breath right along with her. Dr. Stone carries a grief that has kept her from embracing life, and during the film she comes to grips with that and makes the choice to move forward. This extra thread, probably intended to make for a tough but still sympathetic female character, is underdeveloped and overshadowed by the inherent drama of the situation.

Facing extreme circumstances, she mourns the fact that she doesn’t know how to pray, that no one ever taught her how. Yet toward the end of the film, she utters what can only be considered a prayer as a natural response to her circumstances. This could be interpreted as her way of tethering herself to something (Someone?) larger and stronger than herself instead of drifting along weightless.

I may be exaggerating what little meat there is to chew on here. Buy some popcorn, rock the 3D glasses, and strap yourself in. Gravity is a gorgeous rollercoaster of a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat while providing some of the most amazing visuals of space seen in a movie; in that way director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has outdone himself. Just don’t expect to spend much time discussing plot or character afterwards. (Warner Bros.)

[This movie is rated PG-13; expect some language as well as a few disturbing images early in the film.]

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