As entertainment, I don’t rate 127 Hours particularly highly, the film is an exercise of endurance as much as it is a portrayal. Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent film, but watching one man essentially procrastinate for five days before hacking off his own arm was never going to be all that enjoyable. The acting is superb and has to be, as the film rides on Franco’s performance and his creative interaction with his immediate environment, specifically a boulder, the walls of the canyon and a few scant tools he has presumably packed in anticipation of a less life threatening incident. The script is inevitably sparse, and the soundtrack isn’t all that noteworthy either.
It should do well enough at the box office partly off the back of Danny Boyle’s reputation (thanks to Slumdog, Trainspotting, The Beach etc.), and partly due to the media frenzy over the gruesome amputation Aron Ralston performs upon himself. In all honesty, it was the latter that intrigued me the most. Reports of ambulances at screenings attending to squeamish cinema goers plagued film blogs and columns during the initial days of release, and must have been a real boon from a marketing perspective, but I feel that these stories were immensely misleading (perhaps unsurprisingly as the press love to have a field day with the slightest whiff of drama). The amputation itself is much less gory and gratuitous than you may have been led to believe. There’s a fair splash of blood, but it’s not exactly an abattoir. Anyone who’s seen an episode of Dexter or a Quentin Tarantino film will undoubtably be sufficiently desensitised to watch unperturbed. I suppose it’s the realism of the situation which is really shocking, but Boyle’s direction is all just a little too stylised for that to really hit home.
Thoughts 60 seconds in to the film: is there enough product placement in this movie??
Thoughts 60 minutes in to the film: so much for the nausea inducing gore…
It might not be evident yet that I would actually recommend this film, but I would, and let me explain why. 127 Hours functions less as a taught thriller than as a study of the human condition; how beyond even the basic necessities of food and water, is the need for social interaction on some scale, be it the company of friends and family, or utter strangers. For instance, the sensation of triumph that Aron must have felt upon freeing his arm isn’t conveyed so convincingly as the angst he experienced isolated from everyone he ever cared about whilst faced with the hard truth that he may never see them again. Alone; he philosophises, musing that his entire life has led up to this moment, each of his choices another step towards his fate in the canyon; he uses his video camera to create an artificial relationship, talking to himself, talking to whoever might watch the video, rewatching a recent encounter he had with some girls on the trail; he calls out to a Raven, as if it might answer him. He strives to belay his loneliness by any means possible.
However, fascinating as the philosophising is, the true power of the film is in it’s climax, as through a haze of grit and dehydration induced blindness Aron spies three walkers. As he struggles to enunciate the word “help”, you, the viewer, is filled with tremendous tearjerking pride, confident in the knowledge that no matter who these three people are, they will help him, because such is the nature of man. They rush to his aid, and the next hikers they pass act the same way, offering water, food, anything they can. It is the spirit of solidarity that is usually only really glimpsed during the aftermath of natural disasters or similar catastrophes, the human connection that at sometime or another unites us all, and it’s a pleasure to be reminded of it through film.
It might not be the nail biting adventure story that you hoped for, and it’s hard to ignore Boyle’s distracting flashy direction, but overall 127 Hours seems to have achieved what it set out to do: it tells a compelling story, it inspires reflection and introspection, and it fills cinema screens with paying customers, and for all of this it must be applauded.