Tuesday, November 1, 2011

127 Hours

Spoilers Ahead!
You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface

Aron Ralston barely has enough strength to utter these words after several days of being trapped between, quite literally, a rock and a hard place. His solo trek into the canyons and caves of Robbers Roost in Utah was another of his anonymous adventures into the wide open. Nary a mention is made to family and friends as to his plans. 127 HOURS opens in Ralston's apartment as he's packing, rifling through cabinets for the last bits of gear. Forbodingly, his grasp just misses a Swiss Army knife that he eventually gives up for missplaced. We hear his mother's voice on the answering machine. The call goes unreturned.

The young man happily speeds into the desert with windows down and music cranking. He's in his element. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy company; we learn through flashbacks that he is quite a social animal. Early scenes in this movie find him meeting up with two young female hikers who join him for some stunt diving in an underground spring. But we also get a strong sense of his love of solitude, of pushing himself against the Great Outdoors on his own terms.

Into Blue John Canyon he climbs, but that fateful rock will pin his arm to a canyon wall as he descends an especially narrow passage. His efforts to chip away the rock with a multi-purpose pocket tool prove fruitless. Aron will begin to ration his food and water, meanwhile recording his ordeal with a video camera. Each hour and day points in a terrible direction. Ralston is a cheerful guy, after a few days still trying to find rays of optimism even after he's forced to drink his own urine to stay alive. He continues to record his (lack of) progress.

127 HOURS tells a true story with which you're probably familiar. You'll know that Ralston (played by James Franco) will eventually, after the fifth day, sever his arm with a dull knife to break free. Director and co-writer Danny Boyle makes this biography distinguished by examining Ralston's mind and soul, both of which are worn down as the days pass. We see memory fragments of ex-girlfriends and family members, things we would expect to see. As he gets thirstier, he remembers all the soft drink commercials he's ever seen. The memories then work their way into his current locale, as his family is seen on and around a sofa right there in the cave. Their faces are stern, as if they are a jury, sentencing him. Is this his punishment for shutting them out, perhaps for much of his life? He cries out, eventually assigning weighty spiritual and metaphorical significance to the rock.

Boyle structures his film like a contemporary fever dream. A peer into the mind of a media saturated individual. Cuts among real memories and those of commercials and YouTube clips. The movie cuts well, nearly seamlessly, with shots seen through Ralston's camcorder screen. As the human body is depleted of nourishment, so goes the discernement of the real and imagined. In a fascinating subtext, perhaps this film argues that many of us are, due to our constant stimulation with media, in this state on a daily basis, even if we aren't literally fighting for our lives. Even though 127 HOURS is a mostly faithful recount of a specific true event, I still wonder what Marshall Mcluhan would've thought of this movie's stylistics.

I also thought about about how Ralston would often retreat to lonely outposts in the desert, in the ocean, on mountains. All alone. Many of us avoid being alone so we don't have to deal with ourselves. We fill every available moment with family and friends to take the focus away. Ostensibly, that's healthy. But never taking a hard look at yourself can rob you of individualism, of self-awareness. How can you love others if you don't love (or at least accept) yourself? For all of Aron's solitude before, it takes a precarious life-or-certain death scenario for him to realize something else -how selfish he's been.

127 HOURS also has Ralston seeing into the future, his yet to be born child calling to him, perhaps propelling him to do the momentarily unthinkable but ultimately liberating. It is a moment I think many can relate to. I certainly can. Franco plays it perfectly. The real Ralston was similiarly impressed. 127 HOURS concludes with a slide show of his further adventures. He left word with his loved ones every time thereafter.

P.S.: The arm severing scene, it must be stated, is quite graphic and lengthy. If you are at all squeamish, squinting and/or averting your eyes is advisable.
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