127 Hours opens with images of bustling cities and crowds of people. This offers a stark contrast to where Aaron Ralston is preparing to go. He gathers everything he thinks he will need for the trip, drives to a trail off of the road, and mounts his bike riding the rest of the way to Blue John Canyon in the vast desert of Utah. He doesn’t take anyone with him. He doesn’t tell anyone where he is going.
Aaron is quite the adventurer. The enthusiasm for hiking and canyoneering he exudes is surprisingly infectious. As he bikes towards the canyon, he flips his bicycle and takes a nasty tumble over the handle bars face first into the dirt and rocks. Yet he is hardly phased. He pulls out a camera, smiles, snaps a picture of himself lying on the ground and takes off again. When he reaches the canyon, he leaves his bike and sets out afoot.
Soon after, Aaron happens upon a couple of female hiker who have lost their way. He introduces himself and offers to guide them to “the dome”. Upon arrival he tells them the way the guidebook would have them go, then offers to them his own secret, more exciting entrance: free falling from a canyon crevice into a pool of water. Eventually, he leaves the girls and strikes out on his own again.
As he crawls down into a narrow canyon, a boulder comes loose and falls, crushing his arm literally between a rock and a hard place. He tries moving the rock by hand, chipping away at it with a pocket knife, and even using a make shift pulley system. But all his efforts are futile. As he screams for help, the camera zooms out further and further revealing how deep into the canyon he really is. Over the next 127 hours, Aaron reflects on his life, remembers his family and friends and records messages for them on his camera recorder. He dreams and hallucinates of freeing himself. He never gives up on his attempts to do so, not even upon the realization of the extreme action he must take. Through all of this, we witness the power of the human will to survive.
127 Hours is based on a true story. The real Aaron Ralston is quoted saying “the movie is so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.” It’s a story most of us have heard and know how it ends, but watching it all unfold on screen is still remarkably thrilling.
I read some people complained that the film took to long to reach the action. I guess they were expecting an hour and a half gore fest. But to me, the anticipation of the inevitable ending made everything that preceded it all the more exciting. We squirm, and often forget to breath, through every increasingly severe requirement for Aaron’s survival. We would have become acclimated to full on violence all the way through. But this way, we are given just enough to keep us on edge right up to the major pay off of an ending.
Danny Boyle, who previously directed films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, brought his typical stylized vision to the film. The desert and canyon settings are stunning already and Boyle’s camera effects add even more visual intrigue. He often utilizes a split screen to show not only multiple locations, but multiple camera angles. This really enables us to get inside Aaron’s head and see things from his perspective. Boyle also uses a lot of point-of-view shots. For example, we watch from inside a water bottle or the tube of a camel back while Aaron is drinking, providing an exciting portrayal of his dwindling resources.
James Franco is amazing as Aaron Ralston. He carries the film as the only main character in a single claustrophobic location. He brings the intensity needed for the role as well as some moments of comic relief. While he records himself stuck in the canyon, he puts on a talk show of sorts “interviewing” various aspects of his personality about how he got himself in this predicament.
127 Hours is not for the faint of heart. It is incredibly violent and gut wrenching at times. But if you can stomach it, it’s an amazing portrayal of a fascinating story. I would normally consider the saying “it keeps you on the edge of your seat” a gross cliche, but in this case it’s quite an accurate description. It is easily one of the most exhilarating movies I have ever seen.