Unless you’ve been living under a rock — in which case, keep it to yourself; I’m done with rocks — you’ll have already heard about 127 Hours.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock — in which case, keep it to yourself; I’m done with rocks — you’ll have already heard about 127 Hours. It’s the latest film from Danny Boyle and is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, the poster boy of survival who, as a 27-year-old in 2003, went climbing in the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah and got his forearm trapped between a boulder and the canyon wall. After five days of shoving, tugging, chiselling, screaming, reminiscing and hallucinating, he eventually looks at his blunt penknife, looks at his arm, and cuts it off between elbow and wrist.
This may well be an amazing film. It has already been reviewed as ‘flawless’, ‘a work of genius’ and ‘pure adrenalin’ but, I’m afraid, I cannot verify any of this, as I couldn’t watch so much of it. Boyle has stressed it’s not just about a man who cuts his own arm off; that it’s more about the mental journey this man makes and his discovery that he needs other people, but you know what? Self-amputation, it turns out, is a bit of a deal-breaker for me. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
This, apparently, is the film Boyle wanted to make before Slumdog Millionaire, but couldn’t. An action film during which the hero is pinned down in the same spot throughout? A man in a hole? How can this be cinematic? He needed Millionaire’s Oscar-winning leverage to get the project off the ground, but I don’t know if I’m thankful.
The film opens exuberantly and sexily enough with Aron (James Franco) careering across the awesome, awesome canyon — tremendous cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak — on his bike, meeting two female hikers, and frolicking with them in an underground pool. From this we are, I think, meant to understand he is a carefree, cocksure, thrill-seeker whose ideas about freedom include taking off wherever, whenever and not burdening himself too much with family and friends. He hasn’t, for example, told anyone back home where he is going, or when he is due back. (‘Oops,’ he later tells himself.) He parts from the girls, pauses on his return to investigate a slot canyon and, oops, the boulder falls after him.
From the moment he is caught between the rock and that very, very hard place I variously watch — or don’t watch — with my face in my hands or my jumper pulled over my head. You can see where the boulder is crushing his wrist! If you are minded to see this film, at least wear a polo neck, which will make life easier. On top of everything else, you don’t want to be tugging at a V-neck for the full 93 minutes. You don’t want to end up with misshapen knitwear.
All Aron has with him is a little food, a little water, some rigging, that knife and a video camera, on which he records messages for those he thinks might grieve for him. Boyle, who wrote the screenplay with Simon Beaufoy, keeps it moving via flashbacks (his childhood, his parents, his ex-girlfriend) and hallucinations which include partying with the hotties he met on the trail and visions of the children he might have should he live. And he keeps his lens on the go, soaring overhead, bending round rock formations, sometimes pulling weird trick shots (such as the straw’s-eye view of Ralston’s dwindling water supply) and then coming in close to capture Franco’s face.
Franco’s intense energy connects you to the character. I felt connected even though I only part-watched. Sometimes, when I thought it was safe, I’d come up from my polo neck for air, but then see him drinking his own urine, and retching, and would have to quickly retreat. As for the money shot, which you always know is coming, it actually isn’t that bad. Yeah. Right. I didn’t see it, but I heard it. I heard bone cracking and tendons severing. The film may not strictly be about this act, may be about a man who doesn’t just leave an arm behind in that canyon, but if you can’t overcome your own horror and revulsion, it will be.
In other words: this may be a great film, and an ingenious film, but only if you’ve the stomach for it. If you haven’t, the rest is something of an irrelevance. It’s your call, and if you are determined? Then you must ask yourself this: do I own suitable polo neck? It’s always best to be prepared. That much I learnt, at least.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 8, 2011Tags: 127 hours, Arts reviews, Danny boyle, Film, Slumdog millionaire