This is just a quick addendum to my music-themed lesson on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) from my Intro to Film course, which I posted earlier. This bit doesn’t have as much to do with synesthesia, which is why I separated it out, but it is something that I incorporated into the same lesson.
Spending one week on sound in an Introduction to Film course can be a daunting task. So much vocabulary, and so many new issues to discuss, with only a class or two to dwell on them. What to do?
I like to take this week to introduce the concept of synesthesia—the “bleeding” of one sense into another that results in sensations in one sensory modality being interpreted as impressions in another. It’s a phenomenon that has been studied from the era of classical Greek philosophy up through modern neuroscience, and it has provided inspiration to artists for nearly as long. For understandable reasons, it was something that was on a lot of filmmaker’s minds during the transition to sound cinema. Turning to this topic allows us to rope in stalwarts of classical film theory such as Eisenstein and Vertov, and to freely intermingle experiments in feature filmmaking with more radical experiments in the avant-garde.
In this particular lesson, I focus on music. If one’s spending two days on sound, this leaves another class for sound effects, if one so desires. Continue reading
Alfonso Caurón‘s Gravity shares many common elements with the typical horror film, including gripping suspense, the element of surprise and a truly terrifying narrative that sucks the viewer into the protagonist’s plight. However, unlike most horror films, Gravity does not invoke the supernatural or a villainous character to instill terror in its audience. Rather, Gravity relies purely on the natural forces of our universe and the limitation on human capabilities to navigate these forces. The undeniable actuality of these two elements lead to the truly terrifying villain that is the reality of life in space, one that does not ask the audience to suspend its disbelief. Additionally, Gravity holds itself to an incredibly high standard in depicting events in space realistically, including the sound’s inability to propagate in space as well as the accurate portrayal of object movement in space.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013) is a survival thriller in space that details the fictional events of a doomed mission to the Hubble Telescope. Newbie Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her mission commander, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are the sole survivors when the mission is violently interrupted by a barrage of satellite debris that destroys their ride home and kills the rest of the crew. Kowalski sacrifices himself, drifting out into space in order to give Stone a chance to make it home. He is presumed dead. At her lowest point in the film, Stone gives up and turns down her oxygen in an effort to kill herself painlessly, since there is nothing left for her on Earth.
“In space, no one can hear you scream” (Alien 1979).
Apparently though, In Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 thriller Gravity, they can hear you breathe. Gravity, the story of stranded mission specialist Ryan Stone, is both cinematically beautiful and aesthetically daunting in its nature; Cuarón’s choice of specific images layered with film score soundbites was thoroughly planned, and leaves the audience both intrigued and afraid of the ‘final frontier’. But what causes this visceral reaction within its viewers? I wouldn’t say Gravity is scary, necessarily, but something about the idea of the void of space has resonated with humanity, particularly in cinema, for quite some time; its sheer emptiness even aided in the scariness of Alien’s tagline above. When examining this phenomenon, an existentialist argument can be made for this reaction. Existentialism, the idea that humanity is essentially nothing in the big scheme of the world, adds a sense of disorientation and confusion once the absurdity of being is realized. Humans are afraid of the unknown and, when looking at just a snippet of Gravity (34:00-43:00), a viewer can distinguish certain choices in sound, editing, and imagery that examine these existentialist undertones.