“An action movie with a guy who can’t move”; these are the words that acclaimed director Danny Boyle used to describe his latest work, 127 Hours. And truer words were never spoken for this biographical film that depicts what must be one of the most traumatic 5 days anyone has ever had to endure and live to tell the tale.
The plot of 127 Hours can be summed up as follows: canyoneer Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) makes a solitary trip to Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. During his journey he enters a narrow passage with several boulders suspended by the rock walls. When Ralston steps on one of these boulders, it comes loose and plummets down to the passage floor, taking Ralston with it. When man and rock hit bottom, Ralston finds his right arm caught under the fallen boulder with very little equipment at hand and no-one within miles to help him out. Over the course of several days Ralston attempts to free his arm and eventually brings himself to amputate it in order to escape.
Despite its simple plot, 127 Hours puts together an entertaining 90 minutes of action that keeps the audience in constant suspense. The film begins with an ordinary weekend expedition that goes all wrong, but it soon becomes so much more than a story of a man trapped by a rock – Ralston’s time in immobility is one of reflection and epiphany. For the first couple of days, Ralston’s mind and body are occupied by his efforts to extricate his trapped arm; he examines his bag’s contents to take stock of what is available to him before rationing water by drinking at fixed times and harnessing himself to nearby rocks to sleep while remaining upright. As time goes by, flashbacks to the day before he set off on his trip, of how he had ignored his mother’s message on the phone and not told his co-worker where he would be off to, run in his mind. Once near-starvation, dehydration and fatigue have taken their toll, Ralston’s visions begin to hold more significance – images of his family that he never fully expressed his love for, his ex-lover whom he hurt before she finally left and lastly, visions of a child he will never have. The boulder symbolizes the tragic loneliness that his life will be full of if he continues to detach himself from others and alienate them, and this is a realization that Ralston uses to motivate himself when painfully cutting off his arm.
A word of caution here - the amputation scene is not one for the faint-hearted. Given the extraordinary detail the director pains over for much of the action, not to mention the significance the amputation has in this movie, one may come to expect such gruesome and vivid images when the dull blade finally cuts through Ralston’s arm. But unless you are a fan of “unadulterated” blood and gore, no amount of mental preparation can keep you at ease through what is essentially several minutes of barbaric self-surgery. By the end of his mutilation, Franco mostly resembles a scruffy cannibal and these sights may distract viewers from appreciating the ecstasy of freedom and success in the finale.
James Franco puts on quite the display of professionalism and acting finesse in this one-man show, proving how deserved he is of his nomination for an Academy Award. He does well to capture the changing character of Aron Ralston who, through this traumatic experience, admits the failures in his life and moves on to become a better person. From his expression of utter incredulity at finding himself trapped to his manic talk show where he plays both guest and presenter, Franco’s portrayal of Ralston’s fraying nerves and the emotional journey made over the five days is magnificent and is reason enough on its own for all moviegoers to catch this film.