Gravity, which opens this week, is one of the year's most anticipated releases. But few of the millions who line up to see Sandra Bullock floating in space will know that the film has a companion, a seven-minute short that, according to critic Neil Young, is as powerful as its much-lauded, astronomically better-known, parent.
(Mild spoilers for Gravity follow.)
Towards the end of Gravity, Sandra Bullock's marooned astronaut makes radio contact with Earth, but rather than reaching Mission Control, she hears a strange voice speaking a language she doesn't understand. The only thing she manages to discern is that the man on the other end is named Aningaaq, and he has a baby and a dog.
Aningnaaq is also the name of the short film, which was directed by Jonas Cuaron, Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron's son and the movie's co-writer. The short plays back that conversation from the opposite perspective, which turns out to be that of an ice-fishing Inuit on the west coast of Greenland. It's a fascinating idea, not least because it reduces one of the world's biggest movie stars to a distant, crackling voice, playing second (or third or fourth) fiddle to actor Orto Ignatiussen.
Young goes into great detail about Aningaaq, so it might be best to wait until after you've seen Gravity to read his piece in full. But he manages thoroughly outline its appeal while in no way lessening the desire to see it.
Aningaaq itself can also be seen as a kind of "satellite," a physically "minor" body or entity in a kind of orbit around the relatively ‘giant’ and thus planetary project that is Gravity -- though to automatically regard Jonas Cuaron's contribution to the Gravity/Aningaaq "gestalt" as a junior one would be a mistake.
For me, both were among the most significant and noteworthy titles I saw at Venice this year -- but while Gravity dazzled me, made me vertiginous and palm-sweatingly tense, it didn’t move me in the same way as Aningaaq. As the credits rolled, I found myself, to my considerable surprise, powerfully affected -- as the Irish would put it, I was "in bits," seeking a quiet refuge until my tears subsided.
Aningnaaq isn't being released with Gravity, and according to a studio representative, Warner Bros. has no plans to make it available online (although it did, inexplicably, screen in some theaters alongside We're the Millers), preferring to keep it on hold for a DVD extra. Young's impassioned piece isn't likely to change that, but it feels like the next best thing to seeing the short itself.