127 Hours is the ninth feature film by English director Danny Boyle and tells the shockingly true story of Aron Ralston who, while out climbing in Blue John Canyon of Utah, found himself trapped alone for over 5 days. He managed to escape, but it literally cost him an arm to survive. It’s a remarkable story, and has been crafted into a mesmerising film I’ll never forget.
Danny Boyle is a rather unique bloke. He has directed nine feature films, all with very different themes. Ranging from zombie horror 28 Days Later, to charmingly weird drama Millions, to sci-fi psychological thriller Sunshine, and of course 2009’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, his work is as diverse as you can get. It was always going to be interesting to see how he handled a film like 127 Hours which is essentially about a man stuck in the same place for five and a half days. The beginning of the film introduces us to Ralston as the adventure-seeking funster he is, but its not long before the accident happens – he falls down a crevice and gets his right arm stuck behind a boulder. Nobody knows he is there, its too heavy to move by himself, and he only has a cheap multi-tool with a blunt blade to help him out.
It is gripping. I can’t help getting sucked into the dire situation Ralston finds himself in and dragged along for the journey. And believe me, it is a journey, but its one for the mind rather than physically going anywhere. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’d be like to be trapped in a cave with nobody else even remotely close by to help, but I know it’d be damn hard not to lose your mind. Ralston comes frighteningly close. As the film progresses and he becomes more and more desperate, all kinds of crazy shit starts going through his head, all represented in disjointed dreamlike sequences and snappy editing. The film is expertly edited to show the poor guy’s state of mind, which grows increasingly unstable as the film goes on. Boyle makes the most of the limited location by using lots of camera angles and cutting to various memories which go through Aron’s head while he contemplates his options, leading to the inevitable grisly decision.
Even after seeing the film twice, I couldn’t help willing him to find a way out of it, but by the time the moment approaches, you really are there with him and you realise there is no other way for him to survive. I won’t go into details in case you somehow aren’t aware of the specifics, but I will say that the music in particular during this stomach-churning sequence fits perfectly and I’m not the least bit surprised that some people fainted when they saw it at the cinema.
The film hinges on the performance of James Franco, who I cannot fault in this film. He absolutely nails every emotion, and watching him regress from the casual happy-go-lucky adventurer to desperate man out of options is an emotional rollercoaster. He has to spend the majority of the film talking to himself or his camcorder which must be a challenge for any actor, but he handled it as good as you could hope. Much like Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Franco carries the entire movie, but he did at least get to perform in numerous other locations to flesh out Ralston’s memories, while Reynold’s spent his entire movie in a coffin.
A particularly memorable sequence involves Ralston interviewing himself on camera. It’s ambiguous whether half of this is happening in his mind, but the entire scene is there to show his realisation of the big mess he’s gotten himself into, and that he knows its entirely his fault. You feel genuine pity for the guy, and the thought that this actually happened to somebody constantly nags at you, making it even more powerful. Ralston is an amazing man, and to have experienced such a horribly unlucky accident, and yet come out of it seemingly more whole than he went in is an experience almost nobody else on earth could ever understand. I found it truly inspiring.
After 5 days surviving on nothing but a half empty flask of water and a single sandwich, I was desperate for him to make it out alive and the ending I’m not ashamed to say did bring a tear to this nerd’s eye. It’s one of my favourite true-story films ever, and I hope that everyone who sees it feels the same kind of inspiration I did. Danny Boyle, you did it again.