Most of us avoid pain if we have a choice. It’s a little bit like life: we tend to prefer it over death every time. But of course we very rarely have a choice in this matter. When we do, it’s usually about ending someone else’s life, as in pulling the plug. Nobody really chooses to give life to someone. That’s god’s prerogative, or nature’s, whatever you choose to believe.
Now, Aron Ralston (whose real-life experiences are told in 127 Hours) might not believe he’s god, but he sure is cocky enough to feel invincible. How else could you explain the fact that he takes photos of himself hamming it up, after crashing on his mountain bike, turning even a bad spill into a triumphant moment, or at the very least a good story to be told later at a party. Or the fact that he leaves for a day trip in a remote area near Moab, Utah, without extra clothing, food or water in case he needs to spend a night, and without telling anyone where he’s going, ignoring all the basic rules about solo outings.
Director Boyle’s completely brilliant opening titles (with equally fantastic music by A. R. Rahman) convey the heady rush of the hedonistic lifestyle of a single, healthy, reasonably wealthy man who has the best both city and nearby wilderness have to offer. He also manages to convey a sense of the risks that Ralston is ignoring – hints of tension that slowly build up to what has to be the most impressive climactic moment in recent cinematic memory.
You see, Ralston gets trapped, with an arm wedged between a rock and a hard place – literally – and it’s with breathtaking intensity that Franco depicts Ralston’s five days of increasing agony with hardly any food or water and only a few minutes of precious sunlight to warm his skin during the day.
Ralston realizes that if his will to live is really as big as he thought it was, there’s only one way to go. It’s a scene to which the whole film builds quietly, and when it comes, the audience is prepared. It sure isn’t easy to cut your own arm off with a blunt knife that can hardly pierce skin, let alone cut through bone.
Some of the less hearty viewers have been reported to lose consciousness at this point (this reviewer was one of them), but clearly, Ralston is made of sturdier stuff, because after he gets loose, he climbs out of a 65-foot ravine and hikes over eight miles before he is rescued.
127 HOURS | Directed by Danny Boyle (USA 2010) with James Franco. Opens Febuary 17