Bearing in mind that I was more prone to fainting in science classes than anyone else in my year at school, it’s quite an achievement of mine today that I made it in to see ‘That film where the man cuts his hand off’. This is how the couple next to me at the cinema today bought their tickets for 127 Hours. They didn’t even know it’s name. But that didn’t matter because everyone knows there’s only one film about at the moment that shows a man cutting his hand off. And it appears as if that’s just the sort of thing people want to see. Until Tangled comes out…
And so, nervously, I took my seat and wondered if I could manage it. I think the problem is that I knew about The Scene, I had heard about the faintings in American theatres, I knew that something terrible awaited me and it was just a matter of time. I wished he could have got it over with within the first ten minutes, but then that might have altered the plot.
You might well ask why did I go and see 127 Hours at all? There are actually several reasons: the buzz about James Franco’s performance, it being directed by Danny Boyle, the promise of beautiful Utah scenery, and also I remembered the story of Aron Ralston. I saw the film Touching the Void around the same time that I heard about Ralston’s incredible and superhuman feat to save his life. I wondered then how long it would be before I saw the film of that story.
127 Hours is simple on the surface. A young man heads off for a weekend of biking in the canyons and caves of Utah, he meets a couple of girls for some cave diving, he leaves them and then falls when canyoneering, a boulder that may not have moved for a million years trapping his right hand. At that point, the stopwatch is set and the countdown for those 127 hours begins. But it isn’t that simple because during those long hours, those five days and those five cold nights, Aron Ralston has no choice but to face himself. Literally too – his video camera and still camera record his transformation from the young man he was before the accident – commitment shy and dangerously independent and cocky – to the young man he becomes on the other side – ready to find and start a family and painfully self-aware. But throughout he remains astonishingly brave and resourceful.
Danny Boyle does a fine job of externalising the pressures in Ralston’s mind and his fast beating heart through hallucinations, flashbacks, hopes and premonitions. The film makes clear the distinction between the pace of life in the overpopulated world outside the canyon and the desolate isolation of the canyon itself, where a raven spotted once a day is looked for and the sun reaches the skin for a mere 15 minutes a day. These two different worlds are mirrored in the music of 127 Hours, until finally the music appears to stop.
The tour de force of 127 Hours is of course James Franco, or rather James Franco, that immoveable, non-yielding rock and the blunt, cheap Christmas stocking filler knife. Franco does a great job. I was concerned that I wouldn’t like Alton enough to care too much for his fate, but Franco dealt with that worry easily. In one memorable scene, Franco interviews himself for his camera and the self-realisation as he confronts his own arrogance and pride and independence is very painful to watch. Every breath he took through his life led to his destiny with the boulder. It’s a sad fact that it takes something extraordinary – and not pleasant – to see one’s nature this clearly and in the raw.
And yet however wonderful James Franco is as Aron Ralston it is Aron Ralston himself who is the hero of 127 Hours. When I got home from the theatre I spent a good while watching interviews with Ralston on YouTube. It wasn’t Franco in my mind, it was Ralston. Although, to be fair, that could well be because of a superb performance of a compelling true story.
When you watch 127 Hours you may question whether you yourself could have taken such an action when faced with inevitable death. Would you have been able to work out how to do it? Would you even have lasted that long? And when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘I’.
127 Hours was the closest I’ve come in a long time to walking out of a film, not because of the ‘dreaded’ scene itself but because of my fear of it. And if I had left that would have been a terrible shame. The exhilaration and joy at the end of this film is something I haven’t experienced at the movies for such a long time. And for being able to make me feel this way congratulations is indeed owing to James Franco. I felt inspired when I left the theatre today. That doesn’t happen too often.