By Neil Pond
For American Profile
Because it’s based a true story, and also because buzz about it has been so intense, most people will know before they buy a ticket to “127 Hours” that it’s likely going to make them squirm.
And anyone who doesn’t know should probably be warned, since some viewers have reportedly fainted when the camera focuses for several unblinking minutes on the nearly unthinkable act for which the eventual triumphant outcome of the story depends.
The movie depicts the ordeal of Aron Ralston, an outdoor enthusiast who in 2003 fell into a deep canyon crevice while hiking alone in Utah. Pinned to the wall by a dislodged boulder for five days with no prospect of rescue, he sawed off his right forearm with a pocketknife in order to escape.
But “127 Hours” is much more than simply a cinematic endurance test to see if you can stomach what you know is coming when it finally arrives. It’s an inspiring tale of one young man’s incredible perseverance, resourcefulness and will to survive. It’s a powerful, perhaps even Oscar-worthy acting performance by James Franco, who plays Ralston. And it’s another stylistic triumph for director Danny Boyle, the British director who swept audiences away last year with the emotionally soaring, ultimately exhilarating “Slumdog Millionarie.”
Boyle uses a bag of edgy, arty cinematic tricks to expand the narrative beyond the dire, claustrophobic circumstance in which Ralston finds himself by the end of the movie’s first half hour. He fleshes out his main character, and the situation, with flashbacks, hallucinations, premonitions and delirious dreams that flash through Ralston’s mind throughout the nightmare.
In the lead-up to the fall into the crevice, we learn that Aron is a happy-go-lucky loner and an athletic risk-taker. He’s so anxious to get where he’s going that he tarries only briefly with the two flirtatious female hikers he encounters early in his off-the-road trek.
We also watch him bolt off for his adventure without his cell phone, his heavy-duty Swiss army knife, or that extra bottle of Gatorade, all of which he’ll come to regret. He didn’t return his sister’s answering-machine message, or his mother’s, before he left home, and he didn’t tell his coworker---or anyone else---where he was headed.
And that drip-drip-dripping kitchen faucet, seen in the opening split-screen montage as he scurries around preparing to leave, becomes an omen of the precious hydration he’ll be needing—desperately-— later.
“127 Hours” is in limited release, which means it might not be showing at your local multiplex. But it’s well worth the effort to seek out, even if it means driving a few extra miles.
For a movie about a man falling into a canyon crack, there’s much to think about here, not the least of which is how far any one of us would go, under similar circumstances, to survive. Could we do what Ralston did? Could we joke about the irony of buying a cheap utility tool, because it came with a free (equally cheap) flashlight? Could we realize, as Aron does, that any situation is the result of decisions you make, the due course of things you do and things you neglect?
In the movie’s epilogue, we meet the real Ralston and learn that even with a prosthetic right hand and forearm, he continues to ski, hike, mountaineer and bike. But now, we’re told, he always leaves a note behind, telling someone where he’s going and how long he expects to be gone.
After watching “127 Hours,” you’ll agree that’s a terrifi —maybe even life-saving —idea.