“This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.”
Wow! What a movie! 127 Hours is a suspenseful and thrilling motion picture that I was very pleased (if not exactly eager) to see. I have not seen a new motion picture in recent years that was able to get me up on the edge of my seat, talking to the screen quite like this one. Yes, I said talking. In other words: the film grasped my attention so tightly that I found myself involuntarily talking to, scolding, and cheering on its characters (or in this case character). The film has worked up quite a reputation, so I’m pretty sure everyone reading knows what the film is about. However, tradition demands that I include some sort of plot description in my review, so here goes!
Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a cocky, arrogant young man whose hobby just happens to be hiking and rock-climbing. One day, while maneuvering through a tight space in a canyon, a heavy rock comes tumbling down upon his right arm and smashes it into the canyon wall. Aron is caught, so to speak, between a rock and a hard place. No doubt the pain in his crushed arm is excruciating, but there is a much more pressing issue on hand (no pun intended): how to get out. Unfortunately for Aron, he did not take a hiking buddy with him. Much more unfortunately, he neglected to tell anyone where he was going. As Aron himself observes: oops! And so, knowing his death is inevitable if he cannot get free, he proceeds to amputate his right forearm with a dull pocketknife. Yuck!
127 Hours unfolds like a classic Hitchcock film. Not that Hitchcock made any movies about self-amputation, but he used a very specific plot structure that this film follows. A movie starts out as a light-hearted comedy, often seeming to be nothing more than a harmless RomCom. Then, slowly but surely, the story develops into sheer terror. Hitchcock used this over and over again in Rebecca and The Birds and Rear Window and North by Northwest and even to a certain extent in The Lodger. 127 Hours follows this formula pretty well. Before his accident, Aron races happily through the rugged dessert terrain on a mountain bike. He has a great time with a couple of lost hikers of the female persuasion (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn), whom he entertains playfully in a natural pool hidden inside a vast, dome-like cave. He pretty much makes a buffoon out of himself until . . . I think we know when the mood changes. The next hour of film time is spent with Aron trying to rid himself of this nefarious rock.
Unlike many nail-biters, 127 Hours never gives us a release from the mounting tension. Most suspense movies build to a certain point and then release, and then build some more, and then release. Not so here. From the moment that rock topples onto Aron’s arm the tension begins to build and build, and we in the audience begin looking in vain for an escape valve. This is a truly sadistic film. It seems to enjoy torturing us with all sorts of repulsive imagery (besides the amputation scene we get to see Aron drinking his own urine, being tickled by ants, practically succumbing to hypothermia and the like). However, despite its perpetual unpleasantness, there seems to be a certain allure to it, forcing us to watch no holds barred. Although I wanted to many times, I never once averted my eyes from the screen. Maybe it’s because I was rooting so strongly for Aron to overcome his affliction. Really, even though Aron is so blown up and full of himself, there is a certain charm in his big-headedness. As I said, I found myself verbally cheering him on in the latter portions of the movie.
Danny Boyle has really crafted a masterful motion picture. There are several ways this movie could have gone wrong. Creating a movie involving essentially one character, a one-man show if you will, and also making it interesting is no easy task. Any claustrophobes would do well to avoid this movie, because we are never allowed to leave the canyon. Sure, there are flashbacks and cutaways to other characters, but all of this happen inside Aron’s mind. In other words: everything that happens outside of the canyon is only what Aron thinks might be happening, not necessarily what is in reality happening. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography reminds me of a Spielberg film, maybe Saving Private Ryan. It is shot as if it were a documentary, with a shaking image that might just a well be from an inexpensive camcorder. All of this gives the movie an extremely real and gritty feel to it, further intensifying the action. It was a real adrenaline pumper, and I was out of breath at the end of it all. I have remained out of breath for some time now, because every five minutes an image of Aron ripping through his arm comes into my mind.
The first few cuts of this extremely bloody and nauseating scene aren’t too awful, but then he comes to a nerve which looks not a little like a copper wire. He slips his knife underneath to cut, and all of a sudden a devastating, thundering, ear-shattering musical chord (maybe from an electric guitar) comes crashing into our mind, making the whole scene all the more uncomfortable. Film will never be able to actually make its audience feel real pain, but this movie comes closer than anything I’ve ever seen. Something about the intrusive screech makes the severing of a nerve seem all the more painful and horrific. Even so, it’s one of those pains that really feels good because you know that it will put an end to your suffering. While I didn’t enjoy watching Aron break bones and mutilate his arm, I cheered him all the way. And in the midst of all of this suspense and heart-pounding action, there was room for a message. Aron Ralston at the beginning of the movie is an arrogant egoist with no consideration for anyone but himself. But the end he seems to be a changed man. Much like Mr. Scrooge, this frightening ordeal really helped him.
So, what’s the final verdict? Well, despite the fact that I would never, ever, ever, ever want to have to sit through this movie again, I thought it was really great. Very few movies get me on the edge of my seat like this one did. The pleasure of watching the film is knowing what happens, yet watching how Aron reasons his way out of his predicament. Some decisions he makes seem stupid at first, but eventually pan out to be the smartest thing he could have done. I’m really glad I saw this movie. There is something to be said for just thrilling the audience, and boy did it thrill me! I think my fingernails shall never recover!
20th Century Fox presents in association with Film4 productions and Dune Entertainment III a Danny Boyle Film
Cast: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Rebecca C. Olson, Treat Williams, Kate Burton. Directed by Danny Boyle
Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content / bloody images. Release Date: 12 November 2010