Sunday, July 19, 2015

127 Hours: Surviving Every Day

127 hours

Human intelligence is a weird thing. We tend to think we're safe most of the time, even though we should have a clear understanding of the randomness of the universe. We think we have power over nature itself most of the time. Maybe even over the laws of physics. But the truth is we don't. We're tiny, fragile and utterly meaningless in the big picture. Yet to cower before that revelation would be to stop living. So when one man goes on a hike through a canyon in Utah without telling anyone where he's going, becomes trapped and ultimately has to cut off his own arm to get out, it's a toss up as to whether this is about man vs nature or man vs his own hubris.

Danny Boyle's 127 Hours starts with images that could be out of some extreme Gatorade commercial. It's all quick cuts and ultra vibrant colors, leading to the journey of James Franco's Aron Ralston to the Utah canyon, first by car then by mountain bike and finally on foot. This is a true story and we all know it's about the time spent trapped, so aside from this and a little time spent with 2 girls he happens to meet, we don't really waste any time getting to the point. But before we get there, when Aron and the girls go into an underground grotto that they access through a ravine and plummeting blindly into the water, there's already a sense that this is crazy dangerous stuff. This is not something I would ever be caught dead doing. And it's almost immediately after separating from the girls that Aron makes his misstep. But maybe his misstep was made way before and by extension it was made by all of us in thinking we have any power over nature and that these "extreme" adventures aren't in fact like walking on the edge of very real danger. This is not just crazy in a cool sort of way, it's real and serious shit.

The weight of the rock that pins his arm in that ravine is so real I was immediately frustrated. It seems like it would be so easy to just push it off and move on. It's just a rock and it's not even that big, really. But, of course, it doesn't budge. No matter how much he strains to move it, the rock is done moving and who the fuck do you think you are to say otherwise? We see him survive for the next 5 days, using some real ingenuity to solve major issues, because he actually knows what he's doing and has the training and knowhow, but none of that is enough to avoid the cost. And then there's the moment where he first tries to cut the arm to find that the knife is too dull. He's not afraid to blame himself for everything that happens to him. But at one point, later, he talks about how this was fate. He was destined and always on the path to land in that ravine. I'm sure that might come across as a revelation to a lot of people, but it's not one I buy. 

james franco
Once he starts cutting the arm, it's a gruesome affair. It's done in an almost matter of fact way, but I for one got queasy, especially when he gets to the nerves. The sound and editing that suggested an electric shock at that moment was so effective I could almost feel the pain. I felt sweaty and had to get a drink of water. That doesn't happen to me often during movies and it wasn't because of the blood. It was because the scene is so effective at putting you in his place that it's hard not to feel it. Once he gets out, his journey to safety is all about not stopping and he says as much to the people that find him when they ask if he wants to rest. They all seem shocked by this one armed, beaten up, dehydrated man that seems to have more will to continue then they do. 

Franco is a weird character in real life, but when he's on, he's on and in this movie it's all on him, literally. And he nails it. I don't know what it says that Ralston still goes out to the mountains to this day. But he does. He just tells people where he's going. I don't think I'd ever set foot in those canyons. But then, we have danger all around us and we still continue, so maybe that's what the point is. I don't know. It's a good movie though. It would be a good double feature with Into the Wild.

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