Film review by: Witney Seibold
By the time you’ve read this, it’s likely you’ve already heard the story: Aron Ralston trekked alone into the mountains of Utah. While shimmying down into a crevice, a rock above him came loose, fell, and pinned his arm against the cliff face. He didn’t have much water, no telephone, and no one around for miles. After about being pinned in the crevice for five days, he finally summoned the gumption to sever his own arm to free himself. He managed to write a book about his survival.
What sounds like an experience that would be impossible to film (one location, potential afterschool-special drama, horrific self-inflicted violence), director Danny Boyle, and actor James Franco have manage to transform into one of the best films of the year. Boyle, with his clever style, and Franco with his stirring performance, manage to make the experience of a man being trapped in a crevice for five days into a taut thriller, a inward journey, and a harrowing experience. There have been reports of people fainting and vomiting during “127 Hours,” but, I suspect it’s less because of the gore and violence, and more because of the palpable intensity that Boyle has us feeling.
We meet Ralston in a series of action shots. Ralston is an outdoorsy type. He frequently goes hiking, bicycling through the wild, and rock climbing. He’s the kind of guy who lives on granola bars, Gatorade, and his own sweat. He’s bouncy, friendly and energetic, always eager to run into dangerous areas. Of course, since we know what’s going to happen in the story, we see a series of prescient shots as well. When preparing for his outing, he forgets an extra bottle of water. He forgets his Swiss Army Knife. He doesn’t tell his co-worker where he’s going. The audience, while being swept up in Ralston’s outspoken personality and action-pack lifestyle, can only wince at these items. If only… If only…
He meets up with some attractive young ladies (Kate Mara and Amber Tambyln), and goes swimming with them. There’s some sexual tension, but Ralston seems more interested in the thrill of the swim than the promise of sex. They tell him about a party, and he bounds away. It’s not too much later that he finds himself in the crevice with his arm trapped and nothing but time to contemplate. “Oops,” he says.
He has a strip of sky to look at. He marks that a raven flies overhead at the same time each day. He sleeps standing up. He begins rationing his water. He brought a video camera, so he can at least stay sane by documenting what’s happening to him. He has no proper knife, but he did remember to bring a cut-rate imitation Leatherman tool with a dull, fold-out, half-inch blade on it.
This is not a romance about survivalism, nor is it a preachy cautionary tale. Ralston knew what he was doing, and made some dumb mistakes; he reminds himself time and again that, should he get out of this, he’ll tell someone where he’s going next time. Ralston is not seen as a hero or as superhuman. He’s depicted as a smart, regular guy in a tough spot. He even begins to have visions and dreams to egg him on, and lists, in his mind, all of the personality flaws that put him in this position. It turns out that his drive for isolation is what put him here, remembered most hurtfully by memories of his ex-girlfriend (Clémence Poésy).
Plenty of people I’ve talked to about “127 Hours” have remarked that they would not be able to cut off their own arm to escape. After nearly five days, I’m willing to bet that many of us would.
Despite the harrowing material, the thoughts of gore, and the sheer torture and desperation, “127 Hours” is one of the most effective dramas I’ve seen this year, and contains some of the best acting and directing. I implore you to see it.