Gravity is really pretty, really smart, really thrilling, really well directed (way to go Alfonso Cuarón!), really well written (you too, Jonás Cuarón!) and really well acted (much love, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney). Go see it, you’ll love it, but let’s put a pin in all that for a minute, mmkay? Everyone is focusing on the kick-ass “real science” that informed Gravity or hotly Twitter-fighting about whether this is “the future of film” or if it technically counts as sci-fi. That’s great. But what stood out most to me was how the film proves we need The Mako Mori Test.
I promise to be quick (psst, I’m incapable of being quick): You likely have heard of The Bechdel Test. It is named after a cartoonist who had one of her characters declare she only watches films that (1) have at least two named female characters, (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. It’s a quick feminist litmus test failed by something like 95 percent of movies ever made, which is as depressing as the need for the test to exist in the first place. As it turns out, we need another test too.
After Pacific Rim came out, people noticed that the character Mako Mori was feminist-ly awesome in a movie that spectacularly biffed on all three Bechdel components. Rising from the philosophical ashes of Tumblr, a user named “Chaila” proposed the Mako Mori Test to work “alongside the Bechdel Test.” A passing film must have (1) at least one female character, (2) who gets her own narrative arc (3) that is not about supporting a man’s story. Gravity plays like a 90-minute affirmation of all three.
There’s no plot besides what you know: Astronauts Stone (Bullock) and Kowalski (Clooney) are the only characters. When debris destroys their ship while orbiting the earth, it’s a scramble for survival. Blissfully, the famous, handsome male movie star is nothing more than a prop/plot device. This is all about Stone and her spiritual journey back into a life she abandoned when her child died unexpectedly. It’s not even about her actual fight to survive: it’s about her fight to fight to survive. She must shout down the ghosts of her past while convincing herself that life can have meaning again. There’s an easy reading of the film as one that encourages women without children to reject the patriarchal suggestion that they are somehow “less than.”
I admit, I didn’t see what others did in terms of “revolutionary” craft here. Cuarón delivers breathtaking visuals but none are outright groundbreaking. Admittedly, his opening continuous shot is so epic and long it feels like he’s showing off, but Stanley Kubrick was messing with that sort of stuff decades ago. Nothing here is new enough to “reinvent cinema,” so shut it down, hyperbolists. But Bullock’s dizzyingly complex performance in a film that is as thrilling as it is culturally resonant does make Gravity something hella special.
— This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Neb.
Rating: Three and a half out of four stars