Boyle Takes You through the Ringer in 127 Hours
- Friday, November 05, 2010
DVD Release Date: March 1, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: November 5, 2010 (limited)
Rating: R (for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images)
Run Time: 94 min.
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Burton
"I would go insane." "There is NO WAY!" "I would die."
These are the kinds of things you'll likely overhear—or be saying yourself—as you walk out of the theater after having screened 127 Hours, a harrowing true-life tale of survival that's as nerve-wracking to endure as it is uplifting to see all the way through—a journey that isn't merely about survival but also humbling self-discovery, and ultimately a parable about the dangers of living a solitary life.
The film's title refers to the five-plus days in 2003 that hiker Aron Ralston spent trapped in an isolated Utah canyon with his lower right arm stuck and crushed by a fallen boulder. It was a dire scenario that would be the realization of anyone's worst fears: trapped, injured, alone, in the middle of nowhere with no ability to communicate, and no one else knowing where you are.
In short, an absolutely hopeless situation. And yet he lived to tell the tale, not by some stroke of luck or fate but rather digging deep into a reservoir of unimaginable perseverance that is born only of a will to live at all costs. In Ralston's case, the cost is simultaneously gruesome and courageous.
Similarly, the chutzpah to make an engaging movie about an immobile character is in itself daring, and seemingly the opposite construct of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle's brand of hyper-kinetic filmmaking (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). From the opening sequence, however, it's clear that energy will be the least of his problems. Boyle is a supreme stylist of modern cinematic language and, in what may have been his biggest challenge to date ("an action movie with a guy who can't move," as Boyle describes it), he delivers.
Wisely, the film's first act is pre-predicament. Boyle establishes Ralston's adventurous persona through audacious feats of hiking-and-biking—cliff jumping, crevasse scaling, canyon diving, etc.—capturing both the adrenaline and majesty found in the exploits of this all-terrain thrill seeker. Before Ralston literally finds himself between a rock and a hard place, we experience some truly breathtaking moments.
Boyle's cinematic flair certainly drives that, as does James Franco (the Spider-Man films, Pineapple Express) who embodies Ralston's free spirit with charismatic zeal. He is driven in a laid-back sort of way, carefree yet addictively seeking the next natural high. Caution rarely crosses his mind, and fear never does. He's the master of his own recklessness, a talent as impressive as it is impossible to maintain. Ralston's luck finally runs out in one single, swift, uncontrollable moment. Suddenly he's trapped, without so much as a cute volleyball to talk to.
Yet despite being stuck, the film remains intensely absorbing. First, it's impressive to watch how proactive Ralston is, taking stock of how he can utilize the gear from his backpack. He's inventive and determined in those initial hours, but then as that first night sets in so does the sinking feeling of hopelessness. Eventually "the elements" also come into play, which Boyle effectively heightens. A torrential rain can be a blessing and a curse for a guy who needs water but is also stranded in a cavern that can be quickly flooded.
There's minimal dialogue, save the desperate cries for help and occasional video journals. Instead, we experience his experience, one that is at first physical torture but then also expands to psychological. Flashbacks, daydreams and hallucinations increasingly haunt his mind, all the while his physical pain becomes more severe as he continues to work at breaking free. It's often cringe-inducing, triggering queasy phantom pains, prompting one to cover eyes and look away. At early film festivals, some viewers reportedly passed out and suffered panic attacks. Suffice it to say, this is not for the faint of heart—especially Ralston's ultimate and horrific "last resort" solution.
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