Dir. Danny Boyle. USA. 2010.

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127 Hours is a dramatization of outdoorsman Aron Ralston's desperate attempt to survive a fall into the bottom of an isolated canyon that pinned his right hand under a huge rock. The film is directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and written by Simon Beaufroy who based the screenplay on Aron Ralston's memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” From the opening scene we know we are in for a wild ride. Boyle has the audience immediately climbing the walls with pounding music and rapid fire sequences shown on split screens that display crowds cheering, people running, and a frenzy of movement, perhaps in an attempt to show the random chaos of Ralston's existence. 

Soon we see Ralston, an experienced hiker, speeding along on his dirt bike in Utah's Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands National Park as he undertakes in his own words, "a capriciously impromptu vacation." In bravura style, he doesn't tell anyone where he is going and is only equipped with a pocket knife, a bottle of water, a video recorder, some candy bars, a camera and a backpack. Presumably cell phones weren't invented at the time. Using cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, the beauty of the canyon has never been as vividly displayed. When Aron meets two lost female hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara), he guides them to a swimming hole shimmering in the sun where all jump in with an explosive sound and a joyous release that's palpably felt. 

After inviting Aron to a party on the weekend, the two hikers leave with one of them remarking that "I don't think we figured in his day at all,” Impatient to move on, tragedy strikes suddenly when his bike crashes into the rocks. Gripping a huge boulder to maintain his stability, he loses his balance and falls to the bottom of the canyon, his right hand pinned underneath the giant stone. Trapped and unable to move his hand, his repeated cry, "I need help,” signals not only his plea to be rescued but his realization about how alone he is in the world. Ralston has little water which is rapidly running out and only a small amount of food and he knows that he could die in a few days. 

Though we never enter any sort of dreamlike state as in Requiem for a Dream, Aron visualizes images of his life shown in super-hyped cutaways and flashbacks that recall an ex girlfriend (Clémence Poésy) that he perhaps broke up with too suddenly, a picture of his sister on her wedding day, and a vision of the future in which he sees a little boy and an unknown woman snuggling close to him. Ralston spends much of his time recording his thoughts into his camcorder (the real Ralston did the same) often playfully assuming different roles. He does become serious, however, when he tells his mother that he's sorry he missed her last phone call and that he loves her. As each new day dawns and Ralston is at the end of his rope both literally and figuratively, he begins to realize that the only way out is to take the ultimate drastic step that you may have heard about, an act shown in a brutally extended sequence that lasts four minutes and had most viewers, including this one, hiding their eyes. 

Franco does an impressive job in presenting Ralston as an energetic but immature individual who enjoys travelling solo, yet we learn little about the kind of person he is, and I often felt as if I was watching a performance rather than being emotionally involved with a life or death struggle. In his desire to keep us in a good mood, Boyle ratchets up the entertainment with a jazzed up, music video style that drains the impact of the unfolding drama. Though we sense that, as a result of his ordeal, Ralston will experience a renewed connection with others, we never really learn if he fully understands deep down that his aloofness may have created the problems in his life, or if his spiritual outlook has deepened. Sabotaged by Boyle's frenetic pace, 127 Hours eliminates any contemplation of the eternal silences. 


Howard Schumann

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