If “Gravity” were a symphony — and believe me, Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller deserves a comparison of that scope — then “Aningaaq” would be the seven-measure rest leading up to the third movement.
The short companion piece, directed by Cuarón’s son and “Gravity” scribe Jonas Cuarón, centers around the man at the other end of astronaut Ryan Stone’s moment-of-crisis radio transmission (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand the reference).
Earthbound and framed against the snow-swept canvas of glacial Greenland, “Aningaaq” is the aesthetic opposite of its feature-length source, whose story unfolds in the cosmic heavens of vacuum-black space. Where one is modest, the other is grand. The first paints humanity on a mundane scale, while the second sums up the human spirit on epic terms, sending it hurling through the stratosphere in a fireball of debris and passion.
Yes, “Gravity” overshadows its spin-off in every way, intimacy included. This is ironic given the former’s heavy reliance on special effects, which typically correlates with reduced character development. The latter, shot on a mere $100,000 composed largely of traveling costs, offers the perfect, minimalist platform for human drama.
But however much “Aningaaq”’s eponymous hero warrants our compassion, the brevity of his tale ultimately curbs our identification with him. This man, living in such harsh conditions with his wife, child, and beloved sled dogs, no doubt has a compelling backstory worthy of a feature-length film. But seven minutes just isn’t going to cut it, and in the end, the movie’s key emotional moment hits lighter than intended.
What saves “Aningaaq” is its association with “Gravity.” Cuarón has said that he intended for the short to be able to stand on its own, but that’s wishful thinking. “Aningaaq” draws its power from the larger film, without which it would have little reason to exist. From the dramatic irony surrounding Stone’s transmission to Steven Price’s stargazing soundtrack, “Aningaaq” can be read as both a parallel and counterpoint to Stone’s predicament. Though neither character realizes it, they are in the same battle for survival despite being thousands of miles and an entire gravitational field apart. It’s powerfully metaphoric. From the farthest corners of the Earth to the highest reaches of space, we struggle, and though it may be harrowingly difficult, the fight is universal.
It’s this sense of unity — the unity of mankind — that makes “Aningaaq” work as a piece of the whole. Not the best piece by a long shot, but still a worthy addition to a magnificent opus.
Jeng is a member of
the class of 2016.