Last night I had the pleasure (and temporary agony) of watching James Franco's latest film 127 Hours. Based on true events, Franco portrays Aron Ralston, an adventurous mountain biker and climber who finds himself stranded in a Utah canyon gap with his right arm pinned between a fallen boulder and the canyon wall. For 127 hours, Ralston was trapped with only the meager provisions he had allotted for a single day's trip. We're taken along on Ralston's fast-paced psychological journey over five days marked by pain, regret, innovation, and a surprising degree of mental clarity.
The film begins by establishing Ralston's fearless independence and charisma. He sets out for a day of canyoneering, and along the way wins over two lost female backpackers, as well as his audience. After parting ways with his new friends, Ralston continues his previous route and comes to a narrow crevice in the trail which requires that he shimmy his way down two walls, just a few feet apart, in order to reach the trail floor. After checking that a boulder lodged between the top of these two walls is secure, he makes his way down. However his initial probing of the boulder proves not thorough enough when that same rock comes down on him, pinning his arm to the wall just feet above the canyon floor.
Armed with a digital camera, video camera, climbing ropes, carabiners, a half-full Nalgene water bottle, an empty Camelback water pack, head lamp, and a thawing burrito, Ralston's supplies are limited and, with time, increasingly discouraging. He provides himself with a variety of tasks to keep busy and stay productive - creating a suspended seat using his ropes and carabiners, making videos to pass on to his parents should he not survive, fashioning a tourniquet to staunch the blood flow to his dying hand, chipping away at the boulder in an attempt to release himself. Despite his physical limitations, Ralston keeps a relatively level head, performing necessary tasks, pacing himself, and thinking analytically about how to remove himself from, or at least improve, his situation.
As director Danny Boyle describes it, 127 Hours is "an action movie with a guy who can't move." It has also been described as a drama and a thriller, but I find it particularly difficult to classify. It was reminiscent in style and topic to Sean Penn's Into the Wild, following a stubborn young outdoorsman on a journey that proves daunting physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were large elements of fear and gore, attributable to Ralston's probable end as well as some of the self-inflicted wounds which he is forced to endure to save himself. I found it to be most consistently a drama as we're taken from high to low, following Ralston's entire journey and sharing in his fears, confessions, and revelations. But you can't help laughing from time to time either, mostly at Ralston's sometimes sarcastic one-liners.
I don't know whether the greatest selling point of this film is the fact that this story is entirely true or if it would go to Franco's phenomenal performance. Boyle has had this film in his sights for years. Though Ralston's autobiographical book about the experience, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, came out in 2004, he wasn't quite ready for his experience to be projected on film until a few years later. Largely because of the incredible, almost unbelievable nature of Ralston's story, the film is extremely factual and actually utilized a lot of input from Ralston as well as the real video tapes from his time in the canyon for reference. But, as remarkable as Ralston's experience is, Franco's winning performance cannot be overlooked. He delivers heartfelt video messages to his character's parents with a poignancy and sincerity that never becomes histrionic or overly felt. Ralston's pain and struggle, both physical and psychological, could not have been better embodied on screen than through Franco. From the adrenaline-highs as he sets out on the morning of April 27th, 2003 to the moments when all hope of surviving is lost, Franco delivers an award-worthy performance that truly makes this movie all that it is. After all, Franco pretty much carries the movie himself since there were so few other people that partook in the experience, save the women he met and the people that most visit his memory.
If you want to see the film or read the book without knowing how it ends, I suggest you stop reading because we're about to get into all the gory details. The conclusion to this story is remarkable but also agonizing and gruesomely told. Still, it speaks to Ralston's clarity of thought and admirable tenacity. In the last hours of his 127 hours, Aron comes to view this struggle as the culmination of all the decisions and trials of his life. He is forced to consider removing himself from this boulder as the one thing he has always been living for, the fight his whole life has been coming to. With this conviction of mind and the knowledge of a seasoned outdoorsman, Ralston commits to amputating his own arm. Though he did stab himself in the arm earlier, it wasn't until his desperation and resolve grew so dire that he followed through. And this is when it becomes almost painful to watch. The scene takes a space of approximately 3 minutes but they are leave little to the imagination and are bolstered by an unnerving soundtrack that makes viewing the amputation a somewhat sickening experience. But the fact that this scene is so difficult to watch speaks to how closely it captures the real experience of Aron's self-amputation. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine having the resolve, wherewithal, stamina, and will to live that is required to cut off one of your own appendages. 127 Hours highlights how one man faced that struggle and made the life-saving decision that ended his solitary confinement.
I really can't say enough about the respect and awe I have for Aron Ralston, the praise I have for James Franco's sensational performance, and the gratitude I feel for Danny Boyle having made this moving film. No matter how much you're into action movies or outdoor adventures or psycho-thrillers, I feel like this is a must-see film. Above all 127 Hours is a story about triumph and the beyond-human capabilities that lie within each of us. It is inspiring in the most genuine and fundamental of ways and is fully deserving of all the praise it has received insofar.
at 9:46 AM