'Gravity' highlights personal adversity in deep space journey


By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Watching an astronauttumbling into the void of deep space might make a mere mortal'sown adversities seem rather small.

But "Gravity," a drama starring Sandra Bullock and showingin U.S. theaters on Friday, was born out of the setbackssuffered by one man in the midst of the last recession: itsdirector and co-writer, Alfonso Cuaron.

The Mexican filmmaker had already achieved internationalsuccess with films like "Harry Potter and the Prisoner ofAzkaban" in 2004 and "Children of Men" in 2006. But in 2009,financing on a new film fell apart, leaving him in the lurch.

"That was just one element of a period of adversities thatwas striking my life," Cuaron told Reuters. "And sometimesadversities are like that. They come in big waves."

The 51-year-old filmmaker and son Jonas Cuaron, 30, decidedthey would not sit around licking their wounds, and quickly gotto work on a script about adversity, weaving the theme throughtense and gripping action. They soon settled on space, afascination for the Cuarons.

"We said 'let's take a character in a very adversesituation' and we starting ping-ponging and this image came upof this astronaut just spinning into black emptiness," saidJonas Cuaron.

And that is pretty much how "Gravity" begins, with Bullockplaying novice astronaut and engineer Dr. Ryan Stone alongsideGeorge Clooney as mission commander Matt Kowalski. Their spacestation is hit by debris from the demolition of an obsoletesatellite, sending the two reeling into deep space withdepleting oxygen and remote chances of returning to Earth.

Ryan Stone soon finds herself alone, drifting into the void,with a tragic backstory that diminishes her desire to get home.For Alfonso Cuaron, Stone is a "victim of her own inertia,living in her own bubble."

"She has to learn to come out of the bubble, shed her skinto begin a journey of rebirth," Cuaron said.

The filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures ended up spendingsome $80 million to make the 3D film, with technologicalinnovations that reproduce space and zero gravity in ways neverseen on screen.

The trade publication Variety calls "Gravity" a"white-knuckle space odyssey, a work of great narrativesimplicity and visual complexity."

The film opens this weekend in U.S. theaters after showingat both the Venice and Toronto film festivals to criticalacclaim.


Bullock, as it happens, knows adversity and is known forhaving weathered it rather stoically. Right after reaching whatmight have been the pinnacle of her career by winning her bestactress Oscar for "The Blind Side" in 2010, she learned that herthen-husband, Jesse James, was having an affair and she droppedout of the public eye to raise her adopted son.

Cuaron went to Bullock's hometown of Austin, Texas, to meetfor the first time and talk about the "Gravity" role, and agreedadversity was very present in both their lives.

She had, in Cuaron's words, "an amazing insight about thatand an amazing maturity and clarity about that experience." Heknew after that he wanted her to do the film.

Bullock, 49, said the physical demands of the role were lessdaunting that the emotional ones, especially because she had tomake the emotions sync up with the elaborate technology and thetight shots.

"Ryan Stone is not just isolated, she's cut off. So manyparts of her are not living anymore," Bullock told Reuters.

"You have to put yourself in that head every day of 'Whatwould I do? What would I feel at this moment?'" she said,adding: "It is not a nice place to be."

Bullock's performance has won praise from critics, whopredict she will be a contender for another best actress Oscar.Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey said Cuaron askedBullock to do a free-fall with major implications and she "pullsoff a breathtaking landing."

Bullock says she would work again for Cuaron any time, nomatter the circumstances, nor the long hours. He, in turn, saidhe admired her "amazing precision" and ability to perform "undervery, very extreme conditions."

"You will want to kill him ... he demands so much of you,"Bullock said. "But at the end of the day, you have so much loveand gratitude for him."

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