Alfonso Cuarón Rejected Multiple Studio Requests to Add a Rescue at the End of ‘Gravity’

Guillermo del Toro shared a story on social media about Cuarón sticking to his guns while making his 2013 Oscar winner.
Warner Bros.

Alfonso Cuarón is a celebrated auteur whose career has spanned international releases and major Hollywood productions, but no matter what industry he’s working in he doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but his own. Case in point: “Gravity.” As shared by Guillermo del Toro on social media, Cuarón refused to take notes from Warner Bros. about the ending to his 2013 space drama, turning down multiple suggestions in favor of what he knew was the appropriate conclusion.

“Gravity” concludes with Sandra Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, returning to Earth and crash landing in a lake. Dr. Ryan sheds her spacesuit and swims to the surface, struggling at first to pick herself up on her feet but ultimately finding the strength to stand tall. Cuarón films the character standing on the shore from the ground up, making Dr. Ryan appear like a conquering giant in order to fully express her resilience and strength.

According to del Toro, “The studio was pressuring Alfonso to ‘show’ helicopters in the sky coming to rescue Sandra Bullock’s character. He said ‘no.’ Emerging from the water was the triumph, touching the earth, standing.”

When Cuarón rejected the idea of showing helicopters coming to rescue the character, the studio pushed back and asked if the director would consider just adding the audio of helicopters flying to communicate to the viewer that help was on the way. The director again declined. The studio then pushed back again, suggesting Cuarón add a radio to the scene that could be heard giving Dr. Ryan coordinates for a rescue pickup. In typical Cuarón fashion, he declined.

The power of those final moments in “Gravity” rests in how Bullock’s character finds the inner strength to pick herself up and stand with a strength she didn’t have at the film’s start. Showing helicopters or adding in noises to imply a rescue would make the scene less about the end of Dr. Ryan’s journey to find inner strength and more about keeping the story going to the next beat.

“Gravity” won Cuarón the Oscar for Best Director, an honor he could very well achieve again next month thanks to “Roma.” The space epic earned a total of 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and grossed over $720 million worldwide.

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