Two years after the release of director Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire comes 127 Hours, a film based on the terrifying true story of adventure seeker Aron Ralston (James Franco). Ralston inadvertently has his right arm pinned between a boulder and a cavern wall during an afternoon hike in the Utah desert. But the movie would almost certainly never have been made were it not for his gruesome method of escape: after five days in the wilderness, Ralston chooses to cut off his own arm with a multi-tool.
Revealing this by no means spoils the movie. In fact, the very concept of a man cutting off his own arm to survive is the only thing separating this story from your standard “lost in the woods” news headline. To some extent we are all intrigued by this type of violence, even if it’s completely horrifying. Boyle must have anticipated that the legend of Ralston would become common knowledge before the movie was released, so he wisely chose to drop hints within the movie that foreshadow the amputation. One shot in particular shows Ralston packing all the necessities for a day’s hike, as the camera slowly pans in on his multi-tool resting in the cupboard.
Ralston is resourceful and carefree. When he takes a spill over his bike’s handlebars, he quickly snaps a picture of himself lying exhausted on the ground. He even meets a couple of women on the trail and shows them his favourite areas off the beaten path. It’s all amusing until he slips into a small crevice and a rock lands on his arm. The rest of the film is a fascinating character study, a race against time. and a depiction of man versus nature.
We see Ralston use his multi-tool knife to chip away at the boulder until he realizes that he’s only wasting his energy, muttering to himself sarcastically that his blade is now “nice and dull.” We know the consequence of this, but all we can do is feel sorry for him as he figures it out for himself.
Ralston’s psyche slowly deteriorates, and with this come some very abstract dreams and hallucinations. The hallucinations are bizarre, but provide valuable insight on what would otherwise look like the incoherent ramblings of a man nearing death. The film also touches on the topic of destiny as Ralston seems to think that every bad choice he has made in his life has consequently led to this rock landing on his arm. Millions of years before he was born, this rock was fated to crush his arm. Who wouldn’t beg, plead, pray, and repent to God in situations half as scary as this?
The camera holds nothing back. From the beautiful landscape to the hell Ralston endures in the cave, no details are spared (though at times you’ll wish they were). The film can be unflinchingly gruesome, but more importantly it’s triumphant, and ultimately very inspiring. It couldn’t have had such an impact were it not for James Franco, who deserves nothing short of an Oscar nomination for his emotional conviction to the role.