One of them that hit theaters this past Friday, Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” presents itself as one of the most excruciatingly painful yet visually beautiful films to watch. It’s not a new thing that Boyle likes to indulge in picturesque grandiosities that duly show off his talents as a filmmaker, but this time he has gone the extra mile to transform what could be an incredibly boring story into something stunning.
However, the film’s strong point is also its weak point: The cinematic elements of the film are so stunning and obviously given much thought and labor that Boyle and his team have almost forgotten that they are trying to tell a deeper story instead of shooting an “amazing nature” documentary for the National Geographic Channel.
Based on the true story of mountain climber Aaron Ralston, the film tries to go deep into the human survival instinct and resistance to death through one man’s struggle with nature. Ralston is portrayed by James Franco as an easygoing, outdoorsy guy who is so in love with achieving the impossible and throwing himself into the arms of nature’s various challenges that he has slowly cut himself from the “ties” of relationships and human comfort. It is as if he is constantly trying to prove himself to himself. Yet, he’s the sort of amicable harmless guy who anyone would love: the perfect hero to carry a film in which 60 minutes of screen time solely relies on his presence.
Our dearest Aaron (he’s cute enough to pull in all kinds of female demographic) goes off for the weekend to the Blue John Canyon. He’s hiking, he’s cycling, he’s completely loving it. He meets two girls. They have a jolly time together dipping into one of the hidden lakes, they say their goodbyes, and then… boom! Aaron falls into a crevice and finds himself stuck because his arm is pinned under a massive boulder. Twenty minutes into the movie, and the title appears: “127 Hours.”
From now on we have to endure what Aaron endures, we have to feel his agony, his pain and ultimately his strong will which never gives up. The guy is trapped here for five days, but he tries everything to get out and survive in the meantime, even drink his own urine. We watch Aaron as his psyche travels from hopeful to delusional and then back to his most pragmatic inner self: If he wants to live, he has to forsake his arm.
And thus one of the most gruesome scenes of cinematic history unfolds before us as we watch Aaron cutting off his arm with a pocketknife -- with the tenacity of a surgeon. The sound effects of this sequence are specifically created to transfer the pain that the man is going through; Boyle must have known that half of the audience would close their eyes during the sequence, and he must have wanted everyone to experience the procedure as intimately as Aaron does, thus the horrifying drilling noise every time that knife rips through the bone.
Yet, despite all the gore, “127 Hours” manages to leave you with a deep-felt love for holding on to life and the magnanimity of nature. How does Boyle manage to do this? He inter-cuts Aaron’s tribulations with unimaginable sublime vistas of the canyon, heart-rending sunsets, hope-inducing sunrises, aerial shots of the region, the regal flight of an eagle. But most importantly, it is Aaron’s character that keeps us with him; he is so full of life and yet pragmatic that we just want him to live because Boyle makes us believe that he is one of those favorite ordinary superheroes that just deserve to live.
The only problem, however, is that Aaron’s delirium exhibits flashbacks and hallucinations that do not accurately reveal his philosophical struggle with his psychological predicament -- why did this guy choose to disconnect himself from any sort of intimate human connection in the first place? Why didn’t he tell anyone where he was going? What’s this man’s problem? These questions are never answered, and some would agree that they don’t have to be.
However, when the director starts showing you glimpses of the man’s subconscious, then you feel that you deserve to be given the chance to wholly grasp what his life is about. The question remains whether “127 Hours” will receive any Oscars, especially for Franco, who is up against Colin Firth’s King George in “The King’s Speech.” Who knows, surprises might be on their way…
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Lizzy Caplan, Clemence Poesy, Amber Tamblyn