127 Hours (2010) / Adventure-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, some disturbing violent content, and bloody images
Running time: 94 min.
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Burton
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy (based on the book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Aron Ralston)
Review published April 17, 2011
Acclaimed filmmaker Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine) directs and co-writes the adaptation of the inspirational memoirs of Aron Ralston's true-life tale of survival. Ralston (Franco, Spider-Man 3), an avid adventurist, became trapped during a fall in a crevice in Utah canyon that resulted in a sizable boulder landing on his right arm and rendering him immobile with no one around to hear his cries for help. For the next 127 hours, Ralston must try to find a way to free himself from his would-be tomb and make it back to civilization, using the few items in his backpack and the very scarce amount of snacks and water he packed for the day. As the hours tick by, his grip on hope begins to slip, as does his sanity, and his life begins to flash before his eyes, and to the future he may never see.
As with the best tales of survival, 127 Hours is a life-affirming experience, instructing the viewer to appreciate the life we all have, as unforeseen circumstances can occur to take it away at a moment's notice. We should also feel free to experience what the world has to offer and take risks, but we shouldn't have so much hubris to think that we don't need the help of others, and that we shouldn't prepare for the worst. The stunning cinematography captures the beauty and grandeur of the Utah landscape, while also showing us, the viewers, just how expansive the canyons are, and how far removed from anything remotely resembling the civilization we all know. It's a film both wide-open to depict the freedom of the outdoors, and later the claustrophobia of Ralston's harrowing condition, both in perfect harmony with his mindset at the time. The inventive soundtrack also kicks in the needed energy in unison with Boyle's stylish visual camera techniques.
One would think that the account of a man stuck at the bottom of a canyon for days wouldn't make for much of a movie other than as a personal interest anecdote. Credit Boyle, as well as frequent collaborator Simon Beaufoy (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, This is Not a Love Song), for finding a plethora of story angles to keep the tale riveting, from flashbacks, hallucinations, and just the day-to-day depiction of Aron's bleak existence. Without anyone to talk to, it's a difficult task to convey to the viewer just what might be going on through Ralston's mind at any given time, and assisted by some terrific acting by Franco, we're always aware of just what he's up to. Sometimes we hear his thoughts, sometimes we read his face, and others we have a key flashback to understand the anguish he must be feeling at a life built up and about to go to waste. And the thought that there is no one who knows where to look for him, if they are looking for him at all, makes it difficult for him to keep his optimism from completely dissipating. Meanwhile, Aron's own body is suffering from the trauma of the dying (or perhaps dead) arm, and the lack of adequate water and nutrition to keep his energy up.
If you know anything about the story, and most who view the film probably will, you will know that there are going to be some moments that are difficult to watch, such as a man having to recycle his own body fluids in order to quench his growing thirst. But the one that most will not be sure they want to sit through is the moment where Ralston must find a way to detach himself from the parts of his body that are binding him like a rat in a glue trap. It should be known that Boyle doesn't flinch in its graphicness very much, but you still have the option of looking away for the reward of the film as a whole. Although the movie only depicts about an hour total of despair, so we can never truly know just how awful it must be to live and potentially due in such a monumentally lonely and helpless fashion, Boyle does manage to keep the seriousness of the situation in mind, while also affording the viewer some bits of humor and intrigue to keep the story from becoming too depressing to stomach. Each tragedy emerges as a triumph at the same time..
In the end, the film is about the folly of ego and the feeling of invincibility many of us felt in our youth. Ralston cam out of his pit a different man, not just physically, and through his story, we too can emerge from his story with a renewed appreciation of our own situations, embracing that which is truly important and making connections with those who love us, care for us, and want to know that we are OK. And, more than anything else, it's about learning from our mistakes -- and, perhaps more precisely, learning from the mistakes of others.
©2011 Vince Leo