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Boyle Takes You through the Wringer in 127 Hours

  • Jeffrey Huston Contributing Writer
  • Updated Dec 04, 2014
Boyle Takes You through the Wringer in <i>127 Hours</i>

DVD Release Date:  March 1, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: November 5, 2010 (limited)
Rating: R (for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images)
Genre: Drama
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.

As this whole excruciating experience unfolds, it quietly begins to serve as a powerful metaphor about the dangers of a life lived alone.  Even if yours is filled with thrills and excitement, as Ralston's was, you can quickly come to regret that singular lifestyle when you realize what and who it has kept you from—those who you love, and who love you.  Ralston's regrets aren't merely circumstantial; they're personal.  Consequently, his drive to stay alive becomes as much familial and communal as it is individual, and probably more so. 

It even reaches into the philosophical as Ralston contemplates fate and destiny.  "This rock has been waiting for me my entire life", he says in reflection, a thought that serves as another powerful metaphor of all the unforeseen challenges that cross our paths, that we weren't prepared for, and change our lives forever.  It's a telling, truthful moment when Ralston breaks free that his first instinct is to look to the heavens and say "Thank You."  A man who used to live for no one but himself finally sees his life in a much bigger, grander picture.

From there, the film steadily builds and ultimately soars to an ending of pure emotional exhilaration (fueled by Sigur Ros' rapturous song "Festival").  As cliché as it sounds, it becomes a triumph of the human spirit; to fight, survive, and not only live but to go on living, fully, to take risks and conquer fears, to truly live life to the fullest—but with others, never alone.

127 Hours takes you through the wringer, sure to elicit audible (and collective) gasps, groans, shrieks, and periodic OMGs before concluding in one cathartic exhale of relief and redemption.  It's not the kind of movie to engender multiple viewings, but one is enough to sear it into your mind forever.


  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Alcohol consumed at a party.
  • Language/Profanity:  The Lord's name taken in vain.  A few "f" words.  A couple of "s" words.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Jokes about hiking naked (though it doesn't occur).  Naked college students packed into a vehicle, although no offensive nudity is shown.  Close-up of woman in bed, face lying on man's shoulder as she caresses him.  While Ralston watches video footage of a girl (who's clothed), implication of lustful thoughts.
  • Violence/Other:  Many perils and injuries related to Ralston being trapped and injured by the boulder, and his attempts to break free.  While not always visually graphic, it's intense to watch.  Stabbing of arm.  Internal POV of the blade inside the arm.  Bloody/graphic cutting of arm.  Acid bubbling inside stomach/intestines.


Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of the weekly "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where they examine the latest in entertainment and discuss evidence of God in pop culture. 

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