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Jonas Cuaron on the Primal Instincts of ‘Gravity’

Even savvy industry veterans seem to think “Gravity” wrote itself. Not true. Jonas Cuaron talks about the cultural influences of his past, all of which fed into his co-writing the film with his father, Alfonso Cuaron.

The script contains each detail, from the teardrop floating in space to Ryan’s contact with people who don’t speak English. That sequence stems from Jonas Cuaron’s seven-minute short “Aningaaq,” which shows an Inuit fisherman receiving a distress call — the other side of the conversation.

His early goals
I was born in Mexico City. I lived there until I was 7, then we moved [his mother is writer-actress Mariana Elizondo] to a small town on the coast. When I was 15, I went to live with my Dad in New York and stayed there until now. I never thought I would go into film. I wanted to be a writer — prose or theater; my mom did a lot of theater in Mexico when I was growing up. One writer I liked was (Raymond) Carver. His short stories are perfect. I also was obsessed with Jack London. Prose-wise, I’m more drawn to Fitzgerald or Carver, but what I love about Jack London is that he puts characters in a really primal situation. I like the primal-ness of his stories.

In college I met my girlfriend, who is now my wife. She was an art history major and really focused on film. She showed me Chris Marker’s “La Jetee” [a 1962 film about time-travel narrative consisting entirely of photographs[. I’d been studying photography so I had a database of 8,000 photos and got this idea to edit them in a timeline and create a fictional narrative, “Year of the Nail.” I showed that movie to my dad and he was totally surprised and said, “I never expected you to go into film.” I said, “Me neither, but you left me no option.” I was bombarded with it since I was little. When I did my first film, I was in college; I did it as a senior thesis. The original version was 60 minutes. But I developed it and made it almost 90 minutes, In 2007, it premiered in Venice and I stopped in London to develop a script with my dad that fell apart and we started “Gravity.” We wanted to talk about adversity and rebirth, but asked ourselves “What if we did it visually instead of with monologs?”

The Ingmar Bergman factor
In college, when a girlfriend asks you to watch a film in black and white, you do it. That’s when I discovered a lot of films. I was really obsessed with Bergman, the whole world he creates. One that I always quote a lot is “Autumn Sonata.” When you see women go through issues with their mom, you realize how right and poignant Bergman was.

Next step
I’m directing a movie early next year. My wife likes me better when I’m writing. It centers me and makes me more calm. When I go a long time without writing, I start getting frustrated.

The philosophy of “Gravity”
My dad and I formed a nice combination, with our different stuff. He studied philosophy. I’m from the ADD generation, so my question was: “How can we transmit your ideas but keep the rhythm of the movie going?” We were interested in the multiple layering of information you can do in a subtle way. I was interested in exploring this idea of survival, how in certain situations we become more primal, more connected to our instincts. Ryan [the Sandra Bullock character] has intellectually given up on living. But her instincts kick in to keep her alive. That animal force of living pushes us back to life. We saw “Gravity” as a metaphor for that force that keeps pulling us back to our life. As a writer, being on the set of “Gravity” was such a surreal experience. It was nice to see them using the technology to translate what we had on the page.

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