POSTED ON DECEMBER 1, 2010:
Life or Death
Aron Ralston's will to survive the subject of 127 Hours
Do What’s Necessary. James Franco is sure to gather award nominations for his turn as Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. After getting pinned under a boulder while hiking, Ralston must decide how far he’s willing to go to survive.
What would you do to yourself to survive? Think long and hard, go to a dark reservoir in your imagination, figure out all the ways that you might be able to face the mental anguish and physical pain to keep breathing, to keep living. The tricky thing about survival is none of us know just what we will do to stay alive until we find ourselves in that situation. Aron Ralston has been to that place most of us can only fantasize about, and he lost his arm to prove it. Yet, he is still living.
127 Hours is the gripping, harrowing and inspiring story about how Ralston was trapped in a deep canyon in Utah. Unable to move due to a boulder lodged against his right arm, Ralston was forced to sever the arm to free himself from the canyon walls. It took him 127 hours to reach the desperation point to decide life was worth more than his arm. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) takes the audience on an intimate journey of Ralston's ordeal, from start to grisly finish, and it's an invigorating, extremely enjoyable ride.
Ralston (James Franco) is a passionate outdoorsman who would rather be hiking, climbing, biking, or doing any physical activity rather than going to work at his engineering job in the city. Ralston heads into remote terrain in the middle of the night, sleeps in the back of his SUV and is up at the crack of dawn to bike nearly four hours before starting a day of walking alone through the scenic rock canyons near Moab, Utah. After befriending a couple of cute female hikers and spending a couple of hours with them, Ralston falls into a gap in the canyon, dislodging a large boulder that pins him to the canyon floor. His personal battle with himself, the boulder and survival has begun.
Boyle is one of the most talented directors working in cinema and he comes out blazing in a kinetic frenzy, exposing us to the visual/aural chaos of the modern world from which Aron is seeking to escape. Pulsing, hyper-colored visuals, manic camera movement and a grating, discordant score are all at the forefront during the early moments of 127 Hours. I was concerned that Boyle was trying to do too much, hurling too much energy at the screen before Ralston meets the boulder. It's then that the film takes a dramatic halt and Boyle starts the riveting story of one man's odyssey with his desire to survive.
In fact, the fast pace of the beginning of the movie is there to play off what Ralston goes through in the canyon. For him, time moves incredibly slow as he goes through various mental stages regarding his predicament, from calm to absolute desperation. Boyle successfully uses the camcorder that Ralston has to catalogue all the dire elements of his situation as he becomes more and more hopeless. He talks to himself, loved ones and the people who will find his body after he dies. He rants and raves and becomes lost in fantastical memories from his past. It gets so dismal for Ralston that he carves his name and date of death on the rock.
An interesting thing about the way Ralston's view of nature was portrayed in 127 Hours is it was almost like he was replicating the fast-paced characteristics of the world he was fleeing when in the canyons. He would bike as fast as he could, hike so quick it was nearer to jogging than walking, he was always in midst of seeing or doing something and more often than not, Ralston wanted to do it full tilt. By being stuck in the canyon for days with nowhere to go, he witnesses nature in such an intimate way he never had before. It's doubtless that Ralston revered and loved nature before this event, but I'm not sure how deep the level of respect went. The boulder forces the sheer power of nature at Ralston and gives him the ultimate test of respect.
Like most films with one "big" moment that everyone is aware is coming, the audience waits and waits for that moment to arrive. For 127 Hours it is undoubtedly the arm severing sequence. I've read of people vomiting or passing out during this scene when the film debuted earlier this year in Toronto, but that's a bit extreme. It's a ghastly, bloody, intense few minutes without a doubt, but it's the dread and anticipation for the scene to arrive that sets the mood for it to work so well. It's hard to watch, yet impossible to not watch. The audience feels indebted to Ralston's bravery to not look away as his moment of depraved desperation comes to fruition.
James Franco gives the performance of his career as Ralston, carrying the film as he is in practically every scene. His main co-actor in the film is a large, inanimate rock, so it was all up to Franco to draw us into the psychological turmoil of this man literally dying before our eyes. He pulls it off, covering the entire gamut of emotions -- confidence, shock, rage, delusion, madness and courage. It's an agonizing, charismatic and thrilling performance from James Franco that carries 127 Hours and makes it the success that it is. Expect awards to come Franco's way.
There's something about a good old-fashioned survival story that is inherently watchable and 127 Hours fits nicely into that genre. Guided by the assured, animated direction of Danny Boyle and James Franco's terrific performance, 127 Hours goes on a journey into one man's quest to survive. When it ends, you'll ask yourself -- could you have done what Aron Ralston does to keep living? I'm not sure what my answer would be, but I loved spending time in this claustrophobic canyon with a man who wanted to live more than he wanted to have a right arm.
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