127 Hours

(MA) James Franco

This film has become better known as, “That movie about the guy who hacks off his own arm.” Usually, it’s uncool to give away crucial plot points but when it comes to 127 Hours, it’s no secret that the survival story of Aron Ralston involves extreme appendage action.

Years ago, outdoor adventurer Ralston didn’t tell anyone where he was going when he raced off on his latest mountain-climbing romp. That’s not smart. A bizarre accident wedged his right arm between a fallen boulder and a rock wall, trapping Ralston in isolation, without any clear hope of escape.

To follow up his Oscar-dominating Slumdog Millionaire, kinetic director Danny Boyle shifts from the population explosion of India to re-enacting Ralston’s real-life solo effort. Boyle whisks us through hallucination sequences and Ralston (tremendously played by James Franco) trys not to lose it as water, food and time evaporates. 127 Hours moves inevitably to the $1 million dollar question: “What would you be willing to do to save your own life?”

Unlike many triumph-over-adversity movies, Boyle doesn’t try to turn Ralston into a hero, or exaggerate the sometimes banal way he realises mistakes made ¾ and action that must be taken.

Ralston’s own stupidity helped place him at the bottom of a Utah canyon with no prospect of rescuers knowing his location. But as his 127 hours of entrapment approach breaking point, the jocular thrill-seeker has valuable breakthroughs about how poorly he has treated family and friends as he pursued a solitary existence.

One darkly funny sequence has Ralston pretending to interview himself on a breakfast TV show that he is hysterically hosting from his rocky prison. His simple epiphanies about how he should actually have demonstrated love to his parents, or that his selfishness could cost him everything, is handled with understated profundity.

Ralston’s enforced self-reflection will force viewers to ponder why it often takes a catastrophe or potentially lethal event to make many of us truly think deeply about what gives life meaning.

Before performing home surgery which the squeamish should steer clear of, Ralston seems to accept the notion that “fate” always had him heading towards the moment he must decide if he can lose an arm, or his life.

Beyond stark revelations about his behaviour, Ralston doesn’t deeply question why “fate” picked him and this particular boulder to collide. There’s no suggestion he believes he is being judged or punished, or that survival equals some form of personal/spiritual rebirth.

As such, his emergence from death’s door isn’t the concrete encounter with reckoning and redemption which others might view it as. While Ralston seems to break free with a newfound attitude to being connected with those around him, his offhanded “thank you” offered to the canyon’s heights has no link to anything but the undefined figure he calls “fate”.

Could God have been waiting for Ralston between the rock and hard place, wanting to teach him that reliance on self is ultimately futile? Out of everything Ralston took away from his canyon death-trap, he sadly stumbled away without the most important revelation a human can have – God’s saving grace.

Ben McEachen is the reviews editor of Empire magazine

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