127 Hours

The ordeal of Aron Ralston would not be my first choice for a movie subject. The true events depicted in this movie happened in 2003 and Ralston became something of a celebrity, doing Letterman and other shows. But those events, if  you are familiar with Ralston’s story, are pretty gruesome. Couldn’t we watch some nice funny cartoon instead? What makes it of interest, of course is Danny Boyle, the talented and interesting director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, is at the helm. Sometimes you just have to trust that a director can make any kind of material work.

Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, is an experienced and talented rock climber. So confident is he in his abilities that he goes off into Moab National Park by himself, without telling anyone where he’s going. When a boulder shifts and traps his arm, he is faced with an
impossible choice. It takes him five days of introspection and coming to terms with the situation to work up the courage to do it.

Of course this isn’t simply a story about survival. Through his accident, Aron is forced to reexamine his choices and priorities. It goes deeper than just his realization that it’s stupid to go off into the wilderness by yourself without telling anybody your plans. He begins to see how his pride in his self-sufficiency is a means of driving people away. As he hallucinates, we catch snippets of his relationships with his parents, his sister, and an old girlfriend who never succeeded in getting close. He thinks about the two girls he met just before the accident, played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara, who invite him to a party. Probably the most telling point in the film occurs during one of the few moments not from Aron’s point of view, when one of these girls asks the other “Do you think he’ll come?” “I don’t think we registered in that guy’s day at all,”  is the reply. They can sense that Aron is too much of a rock-climbing nerd to comfortable anywhere else.

These flashbacks are not structured nor obvious, although there are times when the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed. They flow through the projector like the fevered visions they are meant to emulate. This would be irritating if it weren’t for the fact that Boyle alternates these scenes with ones of a very smart, experienced man trying everything he knows to get out of his predicament. There are also scenes where he records his thoughts and last messages on his video camera.

Of course, Boyle places the success of this film squarely on the shoulders of James Franco, who, I am coming to the conclusion, is disgustingly talented. And Franco carries it easily. He captures Ralston’s arrogance at the beginning and his anger and frustration as the full impact of the situation dawns on him, and finally the realization of what he has to do. He may not have been the only actor who could have done the role, but having seen it, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else.

I have to warn those of you who remember this story that Danny Boyle spares us little at the climax. This film is hard to watch in certain places. But it’s worth it.

Now, maybe I’ll go watch Toy Story III again.

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