Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
Yeesh, that was rough. Full disclosure: I averted my eyes during the scene. I'm sure there are plenty of people braver than I, but I just couldn't look. 127 Hours is more than just that one scene, however, and director Danny Boyle and star James Franco deserve all the praise that I'm sure they'll get as the year-end awards start being handed out.
Franco stars as Aron Ralston, a hiker who famously had to amputate his own arm after being trapped in a Utah canyon in 2003. His trip starts well enough, as the film opens with him rushing out of the city - filling up a bottle of water but having been unable to find his swiss army knife - to get to Blue John Canyon and then spending most of his first day with a couple of other hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). Shortly after parting ways with them and returning to the solitary adventuring that he so clearly loves, Aron's ordeal begins. Trapped, injured, and all alone in the middle of nowhere, his situation seems totally hopeless.
Ralston spends five days in the canyon making various attempts to extricate himself and spending a lot of time reflecting on how he has come to this point. No one knows where he is because he's been unable to share his life - even the minute details - with anyone else. He comes to regret this, both because it makes his situation more dire, and because he comes to realize all the things he's already missed and all the things he may miss out on in the future if he doesn't get out of the canyon. His experience ultimately transforms him both physically and spiritually, inspiring him to connect on a deeper level with those around him.
The story of man against nature is as old as storytelling itself but it rarely fails to be compelling. I think that's partly because its ultimate message - that human beings need one another - is something that the audience has already partly acknowledged before the story even gets started. Storytelling is an inherently communal activity as it requires both a teller and an audience, so stories like this one, which actively reaffirms the bonds that hold society together, are easily accessible. It also helps that, as played by Franco, Ralston is such an engaging character. For most of the film it's just him - Franco playing off of himself - and that's not something that every actor could make work, but he does it in spades. He displays a lot of different facets to the character and manages to make it clear that even though he's done a stupid thing, he's not a stupid person. It's an absolutely phenomenal performance.
Franco's performance goes a long way towards making sure that Ralston is a very active character despite his predicament, but credit is also due to Boyle. He approaches the insular nature of the story as a challenge rather than a limitation and succeeds at giving it an incredible sense of movement and energy. I think this might actually be my favourite of his films - hopefully next time I watch it I'll be able to watch all of it.
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